Saturday, December 23, 2017



Shiva Moon by Maxine Silverman
(Ben Yehuda Press, Teaneck, N.J., 2017)

            As its title suggests, Shiva Moon, Maxine Silverman’s most recent poetry collection, places the personal within the context of the universal. In Judaism, shiva refers to the seven-day mourning period following a death in which the mourner remains at home, withdrawing from daily routine, and receives visits from family and friends. In Silverman’s case, shiva for her father coincided with a full moon and lunar perigee at the winter solstice, an astronomically significant event when the moon is closest to the earth.

After we buried our father, the moon came nearest
earth’s center, resplendent in its wholeness,
most expansive of all other nights,
the Shiva Moon.
                                    (“Night Light”)

The poems in the collection are a chronicle of the mortal illness of Silverman’s father, his death and burial, and the year-long period of ritual mourning beginning with the week of shiva. Silverman describes the griever’s sense of feeling lost and stunned, even when death was anticipated, as in the case of Silverman’s father, whose final illness lasted more than a year.

Mourning’s 30th day
it dawns on me. Without him
is the rest of my life.

Where have I been
that I didn’t know?
I saw death coming,
no place to swerve.
                                    (“Shloshim Eclipse”)

            Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning which is said ritually for a year in the presence of a community of at least ten participants, is famously a prayer praising God, which never mentions death. How is it possible to praise God, Silverman wonders, when she is “wrapped in grief?” She answers her own question:

“If we hold a memory of our beloved
(an afternoon fishing, or a favorite song)
it is possible to praise.”
                        (“What I Learned So Far [2])

            These words recall the traditional Jewish benediction, “May his/her memory be a blessing.” The poems that follow transpose Silverman’s happy memories of her father with unbidden, fearful dreams. Among the happy memories: lakeside vacations, her father’s gifts as a gardener and their shared love of nature, and his dedicated participation in his synagogue which inspires and roots her own religious practice, enabling her to find and name, even in the depths of grief, overwhelming gratitude:

Welcome, Grief,
resident alien, baruch haba.
will count Father in the minyan
of a daughter’s heart.
                                    Year after year
how privileged to light the candle.
            Most fortunate daughter thanks her father,
tear after tear.
                                    (“A Mourner’s Prayer”)


Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Meteor Shower, her second from Dos Madres Press (2016). Her novel Fall Love has just been published in Spanish translation as Amigos y Amantes. 2016 honors include Songs of Eretz’s, RhymeOn!’s, Common Good Books’, and Fitzgerald Museum’s poetry prizes. Visit her at

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