Where Are You From, Originally?

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“Where Are You From, Originally” is my first chapbook, published in 2016 from Finishing Line Press.  It’s available for order directly from Finishing Line Press and Amazon.  If you’d like a signed copy, please contact me directly via the Contact page.

24PearlStreet’s Sidewalk Talk has featured “Morning Commute on Route 23” from the chapbook on the Student Writing section of their blog!

Poems in this collection have been previously published in Natural Bridge, Dunes Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Crab Orchard Review.  Scroll down to read two poems from the chapbook.

Here’s what two poets I really admire have said about Where Are You From, Originally?:

Joy Arbor is a compelling storyteller. Driven by the “debt of surviving” that can never be repaid, she tracks the history of her family, all “survivors of war and time,” generation by generation, from Germany to Israel to the United States. The predatory past has its claws on her shoulder even when she finds solace in a diner or bookstore. In poems sharpened by wit and concision, Arbor skillfully marshals historical fact and imaginative reconstruction, teaching herself “what it means to survive.”

— Chana Bloch, author of Swimming in the Rain: New and Selected Poems, 1980-2015

It’s bell-clear from her title that Joy Arbor’s balanced and dynamic chapbook is concerned with location, sanctum, origins, and belonging, “the wild, holy world as it is,” and as an able new troubadour of witness, an avid student of politics and history, she treats those cornerstone themes engagingly, with astute and lively detail, with active compassion and spiritual gusto.

— Cyrus Cassells, author of The Crossed-Out Swastika

A story from Kettering University about the release of the chapbook is here.


Where Are You From, Originally?

A game about belonging.
Who you are in the names of countries.
First, an American game – whoever

stepped off the Mayflower
won. Later, proud to call ourselves Indian,
that something in us did not steal

this land but grew from it
native as the plains.

Some stories were too complicated. Berlin
seemed easy, but Germany was a late invention,
and since we were Jews we were always from somewhere else –

an ancestor expelled from Spain. Shifting borders,
shifting names Czechoslovakia, then emigrated
to Palestine, the War for Independence – Israel. Oh why

emigrate then, after that language
of conquerors was thrown off and demand your children
swim against sharks? In the US, that my father couldn’t

be President and had hair that no ski-cap could tame
couldn’t be mitigated by the blondest shiksa,
her Heinz 57 of Quakers and Cherokee princess claims.

I cannot name myself
through nations – my family not blood American,
to be Israeli is to be from somewhere else in a language

I don’t know, to be a Jew is to be everywhere
shuttled across borders, to meet at the borders
with the family from the other side, to escape

across borders – Czech, Poland, Germany, Spain.
To be half-Jewish from the wrong parent?
Hitler would round me up. Israel wouldn’t bury me.

Originally published in Crab Orchard Review.


Berlin Snapshots
for my grandfather

When he returned, a war-aged twenty-four,
to the streets he’d last seen at sixteen, his home
had become a gas station, his parents –
twin map locations. Now, a half-century
later, nothing wears a number 71 on this street,
nor is there an empty space between fences.

Still standing is the brownstone he left
as a boy, its face lined with scaffolding.
We feel our way up dim winding floors.
Two flights up, I blink into the light
of the planning office; he thinks
he’s found the flat where he was born.

He points to a wide pane – here,
in his day, a terrarium had housed red geraniums
(though he can’t recall the English word,
describing its dimensions of glass walls
with an engineer’s precision).

I pose on the step by the too-bright windows.
He stands back far enough
to catch in the frame the empty
floor where in his memory he carries
a knife and is forever falling.

He says he still has the scar.
The flash doesn’t go off. But by his parents’
dull black headstones, stiff and straightbacked as he
against Weissensee’s underbrush — smile now, smile
the flash singes.

Originally published in Crab Orchard Review.

Copyright 2018 Joy Arbor. All rights reserved.

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