Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Bobish: A brilliant and evocative poetic story by Magdalena Ball

 by Magdalena Ball, reviewed by Aaron Paul Lazar


It has been a long time since a book has profoundly impacted me and lingered in my soul for weeks on end. Occasionally--in the past--I’ve been compelled to reread passages or savor sentences because of their intense beauty. Some of these have belonged to novels by Dean Koontz, who has a magical way with words when he allows himself to wax poetic. But I’ve never read a poem or novel that made me repeatedly recite “word-pearls” like those populating Bobish, a poetic story. 


Magdalena Ball has accomplished this with great tenderness and brilliance. I can’t stop thinking about the book.


Based on facts and careful interpretation of Ms. Ball’s Jewish grandmother’s journey from Eastern Europe’s Pale of Settlement in 1907 to America, the snippets about Bobish’s life are poignant and deeply moving. The construction is pure poetry, no pun intended. 


Take a look at this segment which refers to Bobish’s journey and arrival in New York City:


From “Small Woman with a Big Bag” 

She didn’t choose so much
as let the motion of time take her. 

Not for herself, but for her children not yet conceived
who were already pulling her forward by the handles of her valise 

a suitcase full of dirt and longing.

“A suitcase full of dirt and longing” – isn’t that perfectly evocative of a young immigrant hoping for life-as-advertised in America?

This woman is drawn between memories of her sweet homeland (albeit extraordinarily dangerous with an impending invasion) and the free world she now inhabits in New York. The streets are not paved with gold and she must work her fingers to the bone to survive. Yet the sweet recollections of her past haunt and comfort her at the same time. 

Bobish married for love but sadly ended up the victim of domestic abuse. These passages broke my heart.

“Silence and Monkeys” by Magdalena Ball

She was not musical 

kept quiet
to avoid setting off 

the bear inside him 

he hated dirty floors. 

If she kept the house clean if she didn’t blink too hard if she didn’t hum 

beneath her breath 

she would make it
to tomorrow 

though there was always an urge to let go and scream 

break every chipped dish the monkey box chattering and whining 

across the surface of her skull 

let me out let me out 

when she was trying
so hard to be still.

In spite of the hardships she endured, there were sweet moments in this brave woman’s life as well. See this excerpt from “Nickel Empire.” It made me crave summer and hotdogs. 

From “Nickel Empire” 

no, here was pure sound, the children’s pockets jangling with nickels home-made swimmers 

a basket full of food walking across the promenade the boardwalk, the sound of the Atlantic Ocean 

lapping indifferent to the growing crowds, hotdogs
red hots, ice cream dripping down the arm, sprinkles 

Another memory of Coney Island follows:

From “Low Chroma (Coney Island, 1946)” 

Eyelids down, body on damp rock there is no day or night, only rotation this close
ultraviolet might be visible
as to a hummingbird
fired in a harlequin kiln
against hillside moss

I read these last three lines over and over again. The imagery is just magnificent.

And who can’t imagine this beautiful scene? I must admit I’m partial to blue flax, green dragonflies, and orange butterflies.

From “Yennevelt” 

not just to another mythical place where her art could bloom 

tiny blue flax flowers with green dragonflies and bright orange butterflies 

In the heartbreaking end to the story, we learn of Bobish’s fate. She grows closer to her childhood nirvana, and thoughts turn to nature.

From “Subject to Dispersal”

there were bees on the Primulas sweet scent like orange lollies 

the smell continues to linger 

even as it dissolves into a past she can barely access 

Orange lollipops, like orange popsicles, are one of the best and most evocative of childhood memories. How can one not taste that flavor on their tongue?


Magdalena Ball has created a magnificent work which I know I’ll go back to reread soon. Thank you for such a well-crafted book. 


Highly recommended by Aaron Paul Lazar, USA Today Bestselling Author.