Counting Blessings

THE MORRIS BERMAN most people know is the famous historian of ideas, cultural commentator, and author of broadly acclaimed books like The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West (1989), and others that include The Twilight of American Culture (2000), Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire (2006), and Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline (2011).
But there is another side to this major writer, and it can be seen in his book of poetry, Counting Blessings. The collection was written shortly after Berman left the United States and expatriated himself to a small town in Mexico, where he continues to report that life is both more sane and more satisfying than he remembers it having been for many years. As the hucksterism, consumerism, dishonesty, and plain fraud of American life recede, he has made use of the stillness of his new surroundings to allow long-dormant ideas, feelings, memories, and energies to find their way into his writing.
What has emerged are vibrant memories of childhood and adolescence, of times lived abroad, of people who have come and gone. These lyrical poems capture the essence of ordinary lived experience, the core of what makes us human.
So listen up–to “Identity,” for example:

 

 

Sit in this café long enough

and everyone you know will walk by.

That’s what they say, anyway.

By what miracle did I shed the old life

the life of autistic hostility

and emerge, reborn, in a new place, a new time?

Of course, identity is identity:

you don’t get a new shin bone.

There are days I miss my childhood,

Eastern Europe transplanted to the United States.

My grandfather above all,

with his halo of white hair

and his black, plastic-framed magnifying glass

poring over the Yiddish newspapers.

Or reading the New York Times,

then telling me what Sulzberger had to say that day.

A whole world of learning

expired when he died.

 

He did tell me how it started, though:

a cheder in White Russia

where the rebbe smeared aleph and bet

on his slate, in honey, for him to lick off,

at age five.

It flowed into his veins

then into my mother’s

and here I sit,

120 years later and a million miles away,

writing poetry in this tiny café.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Morris Berman

Morris Berman is a poet, novelist, essayist, social critic, and cultural historian. He has written thirteen books and more than 150 articles, and has taught at a number of universities in Europe, North America, and Mexico. He won the Governor's Writer's Award for Washington State in 1990 and was the first recipient of the annual Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992. In 2000, The Twilight of American Culture was named a "Notable Book" by the New York Times Book Review, and in 2013 Berman received the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity from the Media Ecology Association. Berman is widely known for his trilogy on human consciousness, consisting of The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000). He is equally or even more widely renowned for his later trilogy, on the subject of the American empire, consisting of The Twilight of American Culture (2000), Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire (2006), and Why America Failed (2011). Dr. Berman lives in Mexico.