Norbert Hirshhorn

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A Cracked River

Hirshhorn, Norbert

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)


This is the second collection of poems by international health physician Norbert Hirschhorn. The first poem, "Number Our Days," is a meditation based on a verse from Psalm 90, "Let us number our days / That we may get us a heart of wisdom." The poet reflects on his mother's escaping the Holocaust ("my blond head sucking her breast"), her subsequent depressions, and eventually the day when the adult son was faced with the decision whether to dialyze his dying mother.

This poem sets the stage for the whole collection: an inquiry into the meaning of family and love and memory. Hirschhorn doesn't take himself too seriously, as in his description of adolescent lust ("Donna, Oh Donna"), the compelling "Self Portrait, "Growing up in New York / with skull caps and spittle, I felt demeaned to be Jewish / and fled to the Ivy league," and the wonderful "New Old Uncle Blues."

There are three major clusters of poems: one that deals with the poet's family and childhood; a second cycle of love, distance, divorce, and renewed love; and, finally, an engaging set of poems that focus on his experience in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. In "On a Guesthouse Veranda in Surakarta, Central Java," Hirschhorn writes, "What matters here? Nothing. / Never has life been / so sweet." And "A Non Believer Wakens to the First Call to Prayer" ends with these beautiful lines, "The men who pray raise up their palms. / Soon the sun will warm the stones."

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