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Review of Rachel Tzvia Back's Poetry Collection, A Messenger Comes

Updated on October 6, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Rachel Tzvia Back

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Introduction

The broken-hearted, dispirited, lonely, downtrodden, and long- suffering of the world have important news for humanity, and the messenger comes to awaken the motivation to examine and report on that news.

The speaker in Back's A Messenger Comes has heeded the advice of the messenger by dramatizing her own message of pain and sorrow. Such reportage fulfills the expectations of poetry that gives back to human beings their own felt experiences.

Rachel Tzvia Backs A Messenger Comes features a speaker who reluctantly delivers her message of human suffering. Her reluctance is expressed in the books epigraph from Kaddish by Leon Wieseltier:

A messenger comes to the mourners house. "Come,"
says the messenger, "you are needed. "
"I cannot come," says the mourner. "My spirit is broken."
"That is why you are needed," says the messenger.

Movement 1: "The Broken Beginning"

This reluctant messenger starts at the beginning, but this beginning is broken, that is, God breaking Himself into pieces and then that Creator "retreating / to make way / for the perfect human // imperfection."

The appearance of Adam and Eve on a world stage that was not yet broken allowed the First Pair to dream of a world that, in fact, was not yet broken. As the Creator moved over this creation, "his heart / was breaking." But God knew what He was doing.

In order to have a creation that seemed to be apart from Himself, He had to cause a clash of duality. His "separated / self" became the world that His human children would know through the senses; thus, from the "beautifully / unarticulated" of the spirit realm, God allowed his heart to "shatter[ ] like shards falling / in a torn-light hail / of violets gold."

The speaker's innovative interpretation of the Judeo-Christian creation story, which appears in Genesis of the Holy Bible, moves on under the following titles: "Stars," "A debate," "The giving of names," "Angels," and "From the beginning."

All sections focus on the same theme of brokenness—separation from the Divine Creator that inflicts all of humanity with suffering.

The speaker's truth in reporting makes it abundantly explicit that even after the human mind has acquired the exact knowledge of the temporary separation, the human heart continues to find it difficult to endure that pain and suffering.

Yet the sufferer, if he is to be of assistance to himself and his fellow human beings, must find the will and the courage to report his feelings honestly and openly.

Movement 2: "Lamentation"

One reason for this speaker's pain and sorrow becomes clear in the movement titled, "Lamentation," which is prefaced with the epigraph, "for my father, on his dying." Again, the speaker reminds the reader of the nature of life as broken when she laments, "we exist / in a shattered vessel / shards at our bare feet."

The speaker continues to report sorrow upon sorrow even though she knows, "the spoken stands / with bare spindly arms / around // its unspoken brother." Again, her reluctance becomes evident, but her determination to continue her report will not allow her to remain silent, even though, "what you do / speak is always / poor and pale."

Addressing her father, she speaker confesses, "You are dying, // But you do not say so / we do not say together." The father went on "researching / options thick / folders of studies." The speaker experiences a slow, gathering dread, watching her father attend to the illness that will eventually take him from her.

Movement 3: "Last Morning Poems"

After the death of her father, the speaker offers a poem in which her father was still alive, attending the funeral of his brother which happens to be the last funeral her father would attend.

In the poem, the father along with other mourners stands at the gravesite in stocking feet. They chant and offer their customary prayers, and then upon returning to the mourners' bus they learn, "a small boy / has run off with their shoes." This scene is the only place in the book that will bring smile because of its humor.

Movement 4: "Elegy Fragments"

In "Elegy Fragments," the speaker again confronts death, that of her sister. And again, the theme of brokenness is evident in the title. The break from the world by the sister leaves the speaker feeling that "the crowded world / emptied."

The speaker again testifies to the feebleness of words to express such sorrow: "in the vastness of your / absence / we are solitary threads now and know: Silence tells it better."

Rachel Tzvia Back's A Messenger Comes exceeds the human heart's grasp for self examination. It gives readers back their experiences, reminding them that grief and sorrow will always occupy an important shelf in the bookcase of life. When the messenger comes, the poet of insight, daring, and caring will always respond with a full report.

Rachel Tzvia Back

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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