Breaching Roots by Diti Ronen (tr. from Hebrew by Joanna Chen)
Go to Auschwitz / stand on the platform / as if you never stood there.
After the selection / Grandma, Mother and I / stand on the platform / and look at Grandpa / his right hand in little Yehoshua’s hand / his left hand holding baby David / his back to us / as he goes. / Such a long way he goes / all these years / goes and goes and goes / and we stand and watch / all those years / we watch / his back to us / to this day / all the time / his back to us / little Yehoshua / baby David / his back to us / as he goes.
Do not come here my daughter / no graves grow here. / The valley is calm / green / the people are good. // Do not come here my daughter / while evil slumbers. / Tourists come and go / no one stays. / Do not come here my daughter / there is nothing to be learned from the past. / The wind that blows through the trees now / cannot remember the smell of blood. / Do not come here my daughter / you will erase nothing. // A wasted journey.
White clouds festoon the margins / of the road. / Damp fog welcomes / my skin / my eyes / snowflakes settle over Linden branches / piling up to test me / as I return to the land / of my forefathers. / I do not kiss this land.
Go, go to Auschwitz. / Maybe you’ll get a few poems out of it.
Memento by Larry Lefkowitz
There is that photograph
Of a man resting on a bunk in Auschwitz
Leaning on one arm, hand under his chin
He is looking at the camera
At his being there
Or maybe he is looking beyond the camera
Beyond the captor photographing him
Beyond this place and this Earth
And we look and wonder with him
Wonder and do not comprehend
As he lies there, thinking
And perhaps he reasons
As long as I think, I am
And as long as I am, I am . . .
And now he is
In camera obscura.
You Can’t Get Away From It by Helen Bar-Lev
the radio and television
force you to remember
it would be best not to
best just to let go of it
like all the deaths
of all the friends
then the grief
then the acceptance
but this one horror persists
perhaps it is not so much
as the barbarism behind it
the sophisticated culture
that thought of it
conscience gone blank
humanity slipping back down
the evolutionary tree
everything about that era
but the barbarity
perhaps most of all
today, when all these thoughts
and memories and nightmares
are called forth
on the radio and television
forcing you to remember
it would be best not to
Things I Tell Myself by Sari Ellen
When crossing NYC streets carelessly:
cars brushing my clothes, bystanders shocked—
I toss off: “Hey, didn’t ja ever cross a street with the descendant
of Holocaust Survivors?”
When I go to those “Second Generation” meetings,
so many people with Aryan features:
blond hair, blue eyes, the correctly-shaped nose—
genetic results of Selektions made many years back,
I joke, “Hey, those Selektions really did work!”
On the A train, late night, careening into Washington Heights
when some guy spreads his knees and juts
his loins at me, rocking a little: slim hips, hard cock against zipper,
saying, “I do it hard! I know you like that, bitch!
You one uh them intellectual Jews, I can see it!
You get them clothes from yo mutha?”
I stand in the screeching metal cage as it approaches my stop.
And when he follows me out onto the platform
I do that thing of pretending
I’m done with that train until the very last moment
when I jump back in through the closing doors.
Leaving him on the platform,
staring at that train pulling away with me back inside it
And I tell myself: “See? I’d have survived.”
Answering Machine Message by Sari Ellen
The message on your machine
sounds lonely. What’s goin’ on?
You never call your old mother
just because she never calls you.
We’re fine. No news.
The most exciting thing that’s happened
I dreamed. That the Nazis
were coming to take your sister.
That the Nazis were coming
for me. I woke up. I stood in your sister’s doorway
and I watched her sleep.
It’s easier to love her—
she doesn’t look Jewish.
I love you too.
I know you don’t believe me.
Even after nine months pregnant
I still couldn’t believe
I’d been given a baby. You don’t know
what they did to babies back then.
I couldn’t explain.
But it was better for you
to grow up unforgiving, independent.
I made you strong.
I loved you. You were my best.
My firstborn. The one I really protected.
I let you go.
I Run by Mindy Aber Barad
But the memories catch up to me
clutch at my fringes
catch in my throat
I cannot say Kaddish for you all
I cannot remember the syllables of your last names
I cannot pronounce your villages
I would have
bombed the train tracks
I would have
put a bullet in his head
I would have
yelled and screamed
I would have
grabbed the world’s attention
Memories run along side me
With water for my thirst
Balm for my joints
A towel for the back of my neck
I may run forever.
Lost in Time by Judith Fineberg
we always walked up the back staircase
to the top of the triple-decker wood frame house
straight into the kitchen; the walls were papered
in a large floral green swirl, spotless linoleum
covered creaky floorboards
scrubbed oilcloth brightened a table
always laden with Grandma’s delicacies —
sticky teiglach, honey cake, potato latkes,
hamantaschen, coconut macaroons
notes of mama lashon floated upon
vapors of simmering chicken soup;
linguistic stem cells leached out from boiling bones
differentiating into the full range of human affect:
espressivo exhalations, jubilant, proud
meant for all to hear
sotto voce utterances, secretive, sorrowful-
not words for tender ears
(they should never know from it!)
unspoken stories remained marrow deep
a displaced generation
left their known world behind
crossed world’s oceans
carrying little more than history
wisps of dreams
they were gone before
I understood the questions
who will tell their stories now?
oh, not knowing,
I am diminished
Gazpacho (for Agnes) by Wendy Dickstein
Because you’re coming to dinner
I peel tomatoes; watch them step
out of their skins, slip into olive oil
sizzle, chop cucumber and remember
the first time I made gazpacho.
My son was ten, held up his spoon,
grinned at the thick red liquid, said, ‘Gestapo’.
How sad you were at fifteen
even though we’d fall down laughing
smoke half cigarettes
use our shoes for ashtrays.
After school your mother, twice widowed,
greeted you with silence.
Years later you told me how the kids would snicker
when you walked to town
with your father, twisted from Treblinka.
After he died, your mother sent you
every afternoon for Hebrew lessons
to an unsmiling kerchiefed woman
while the rest of us
sneaked out of school for rum balls.
Now here you are at sixty
as if you too
step out of your skin.
You bring me cake
and photos: fourteen grinning grandchildren.
What roots you’ve plunged deep into earth,
a leafy canopy sprung from crooked branches.
Come in, old friend,
try my gazpacho.
Holocaust Reremembrance by Jacqueline Schaalje
I’m told people are bored if you tell them your dreams.
I dreamt I had to crawl into a tiny hole.
A man was reading aloud from a Hebrew book
while I was trying to climb into that inconveniently small hole.
The man looked up, then turned back
to where his finger was on the page
and bowed his head.
I was too preoccupied to listen to his recital.
I might have known the book in the dream but now I can’t remember.
As I was trying to imagine how I would stick my head
through that small space, the voice got hoarse.
If my nose and chin survive this, I thought, and if
it doesn’t get too dark, I would calculate where the rest
of my limbs could get stuck.
While wriggling my arm into the hole above me,
the reader lost his thread.
I respectfully waited. I was stuck anyhow, so why not?
Someone helpfully told him the last word.
I don’t think it was me who spoke
although subconsciously I knew where he was.
He was in that Hebrew book, after all, in my dream.
He continued reading. I stuck out my other arm
and got slightly depressed. There were people
before me, already halfway, and also behind me,
who also had to crawl into that same hole
but none of us knew how we’d accomplish it.
Despite that we didn’t ask any appropriate questions.
My body, of course, didn’t ask. Dependable, that one.
It simply continued crawling, or trying to, with determination.
I suddenly felt exhausted, I had my body to contend with,
on top of the hole that might lead to a grasp just out of knowledge.
Push it but don’t punish it, is my body’s motto.
Still I had an obliterating fear.
Would this work out?
Why did the other people not bolt?
I’d also like to mention that in our uncomfortable collective
silence we were climbing away from the man reading in Hebrew.
His voice made the climbing easier.Before I’d gone to sleep,
I read about Holocaust Remembrance Day.
This year, the internet said, it would not be commemorated
in situ. That suited me fine. I can watch with closed eyes.
I’ve played my part.
Jewish Taurus by Yael Unterman
~To Louise Glück
I came into the world a bull,
kicking dust clouds over my
startled father and mother, who
took one step back, then another
I, a sullen bulk at
the center of the earth,
pawing and snorting, watched
by a thousand bloodthirsty eyes
and watching in turn
through shadowed slits,
careful not to be seduced
by a cape of silk
growing up, my story was
canopied by that of the collective,
because, Louise –
we all live and die in
the shadow of the Holocaust;
we all plan our lives as an
act of revenge,
a poke in the eye, see,
they’re dead, I still live
the fathers walked singing
the children run bellowing
am yisrael hai, acharai
always moving, always raging,
you don’t turn your back on a bull;
nations rise, peak, fall
I, fleshy scarred Jew
live on and on.