Tapestry of Secrets
reviewed by Hannah Rousselot
Carol Alena Aronoff’s Tapestry of Secrets records the woven thread of the persona’s life, threads created from whispers and fear, but also resilience and pride. Aronoff shows in the first poem in her chapbook, titled “Los Secretos de Mi Abuelito,” that the persona and her family consistently have to wrestle between letting “the unrevealed be buried with her or pass/ along the joy and burden to another generation.” Meaning, the family has to choose between stifling their Jewish faith or worshiping in secret and risk persecution from the Spanish Inquisition. The chapbook begins with the persona’s childhood and ends with her motherhood, and is laden with the question of how to straddle her Jewish faith while avoiding the murderous eyes of the Inquisition. The book itself fluctuates between English, Spanish, and Hebrew, creating morsels of language that are bittersweet to the tongue. The persona struggles with the knowledge that her true faith needs to be hidden, and in the contradictions her life of secrecy entails. When her family is making the traditional food of her faith, the persona is constantly aware of what would happen if her family was found out: “Heavenly smells that can give us away/ and lead us to hell.” In this poem, “Recipe for Disaster,” it is acknowledged that the persona straddles two worlds: a veiled one and a true one. But Tapestry of Secrets begs the question: which is which? It is easy to believe that her Jewish faith is the veiled life, since it requires literal concealment from the Inquisition, but if one looks closer Aronoff shows that the true veiled life is the one she lives day to day, as a Christian. She writes in “Double Wedding,” a gorgeous poem about the two wedding ceremonies that the persona has to undergo (one Jewish, one Christian): “we dress for the public wedding, our piety/ in place like makeup we’ll wash tonight/ and replace in the morning.” The persona’s Christian life is one washed off, superficial. Her true Jewish identity, although difficult to live because of persecution, is her lifeblood. The chapbook ends with the poem “Cara Vemos, Corazón no Concemos,” translated as “Even though we see the face, we cannot know what is in the heart.” The final lines of this poem have the persona wrestling with telling her daughter about their faith. Aronoff writes: “Two words somos Judiós spell the death/ of her childhood. Still, she laughs at the future.”
Tapestry of Secrets is an ode to the resilience of faith faced with persecution. It was a finalist for the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards 2020 and beyond that, it is a compelling and delicate work. I recommend you pick up a copy.
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