What Hath God Rothed

by Phyllis Kriegel

A troika of Roths—Joseph, Henry and Philip
Had roots in Galicia (Austro-Hungary’s
Scorned and backward province).
Breeding place of shtetl sons
With scores to settle
Who used words as weapons
To fabulate and manipulate:
Dissemblers, tricksters, wordsmiths, scribblers
In different generations,
Now archived side by side.

Moses Josef Roth of Brody
Shed the Moses, assumed a monocle–
Wrote flawless German, became dandified Austrian,
Called himself an accidental Jew,
Cranked out short works
That said true things in half a page.
Lived on the run out of two suitcases
in six countries.
The Nazis banned and burned his books.

Henry, born Herschel in Tymenitz
Transplanted to America, took root
In East Side slums
At 27 writes Call it Sleep — a classic.
Piled realism, surrealism, parody and parable.
Sixty years of writers’ block
Critics dubbed him one-book wonder.
Then crafts a late life opus
Mercy in a Rude Stream
Turns pain-ridden life into literary.

Philip, son of Bess and Herman with Galician roots,
Home- grown bard of Newark,
Celebrated by the critics
Bad-mouthed in Jewish press
Scourge of rabbis, bane of ardent feminists–
Has chutzpah enough to ignite an audience
Folded his own life (post assimilation, angst-ridden Jew)
Into Portnoy, Zuckerman and “Philip Roth.”
After some thirty books and prizes enough to fill a dumpster
Calls it quits and quietly awaits the big Nobel.

Phyllis Kriegel: Editor, teacher, radio host, feminist activist, painter and constant student. To her surprise and delight, she finds the maxim “only connect” dramatically realized in late life.