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A Lineage of Ragpickers, Songpluckers, Elegiasts & Jewelers: Selected Poems of Jewish Family Life, 1973-1995

by Albert Goldbarth

Dime Call

Dead Jews, dead Jews, just points now an underground
telephone cable runs through. When I dial my
father up, his father, long gone, jolts in the
earth between us. — Picture an archaeologist,
unaware of that skeleton shocked to
life by my dime call. But

I believe the fathers have something
to say. And I believe
in the archaeologist, ear to ground
and eye sun-thin
through his lens, translating the many
dead tongues.

Like the phone
on the wall, black box
with its message . . . I'm going
to tie these phylacteries
till my head rings,
till they tell me.



Goldbarth was born and raised in Chicago, and many of his autobiographical lyrics concern Jewish family life, with its beginnings in immigration, its decimation by the Holocaust, its religious rituals, its kinship relations, its social presence. Goldbarth writes as one who has left that life but wishes to perpetuate it as it recedes. . . .  What is most exhilarating about reading Goldbarth is the constant surprise one encounters on each page as the poem continues a protean development, unforeseen and beautiful, of its basic premises.
— Helen Vendler, from introductory comments in Harper American Literature