Summer Hunger, by Judith Pacht
shortlisted: So Late, So Soon, by Carol Moldaw
JUDGE: Rachel Tudor
Judith Pacht’s Summer Hunger is a not unfamiliar exposition of Jewish identity in a world which seems simultaneously familiar and estranged.
The poem that best exemplifies this theme is “Sister Wendy at the Kimbell.” Pacht begins her poem by literally standing in the spot where Sister Wendy stood only a week before, and then she recites Sister Wendy’s keen and visceral commentary on the various works of art housed at the museum. As the poem proceeds, we witness Pacht struggle to merge with and separate from a personality that symbolizes–with her nun’s habit–a thousand years of Christian persecution and domination. However, the nun’s habit also contains one of the most sensitive, perceptive, and recognizably human intelligences walking among us.
“I, a non-observant Jew, read/the observant’s mood, see Wendy as my kin/we both translate myth to burning flesh/shiver in another’s cold, shrink time”
The poignant question raised, but never answered by this collection is found in “Two Double Agents.”
“Lying alone on the rented matress/she wondered, Who am I? not What do I want to be?/ Featureless as an unformed fetus”
Every new identity discovered requires a displacement of another. In “Jenine, Palestine, April 2002” Pacht writes, “Some happen/ to hear those buried alive. It happens/ Rumors? Well, they may be true. In camp/either way people do/ know who’s gone. They don’t listen to officials checking the house/ (or whatever’s left of it here)/who asks, What happened? They don’t/ answer in the camp, but the houses/ only concrete shells, speak here.”
The preeminent question the author asks the reader:
“What would you do/ if threatened? Would you/ point to the Jew in the cupboard?/ A man, a woman small as a dish/ In a closet a person/ can stand tall, hiding./ In a cupboard/ an object rests. A small Jew/ in uncertain weather.”
is the question she is searching for herself.