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Poems from Chopin's Piano

  Eastern Europe After the War  

Wisps of memory   ragged dips in the grass

A few years earlier, millions died in sub-zero
temperature     Stripped to their underwear,

they were whipped    beaten with fists
and rifle butts   their infants ripped

from their arms     Their prayers to God
changed nothing     Shot in the neck,

they were kicked   into ditch after ditch    
Those still living clutched at prayer shawls  

or thrice-blessed amulets   but their words  
their tears   called down no power    

Their deaths did not alter the sky, which continues
to shelter their murderers     The earth

that churned for days afterward has yielded nothing  
but fragments     The years swept by, blurring

the landscape   though, on occasion, something
in humanity   twitched     A list of the names

of the missing   slipped from official fingers  
and drifted into history     In Eastern Europe,

not a stitch was mended     The gash
in the abandoned universe   could not be healed  




  Counting the Holocaust
  He tried to get a handle on the Holocaust:
let others immerse themselves in questions
of time and intention    

He would leave the Nazis to history  
the endless litany of camps to architects
and statisticians    

Let the professors tussle over Hitler's evil
genius   the altruism of Schindler   the German
muse of Goldhagen

He wanted to know one thing only —
what six million of anything added up to . . .
and so he counted:

grains of uncooked rice   until the gallon jugs
he dropped them into filled his kitchen   un-
matched contact lenses  

newly-minted pennies   then soda pop bottle caps
battered shoe boxes   abandoned valises   and six
million periods in 12-point Gothic type:

thirty-seven hundred and four unconsumed
pages     He was counting the Holocaust   and he
kept counting.



  A Dance on the Poems of Rilke  

I remember a Czech dancer who danced on the poems of Rilke.
                        — Stennie Pratomo-Gret

In the particular hell of Ravensbrück
where Gypsy girls were sterilized and babies
were drowned at birth    where dysentery  
lung cancer and typhus    took life after life  
and grotesque experiments in the inducement
of infection and pain were cultivated as a fine art  

where women of every European nation slaved
for Siemens    through endless moonless nights  
and cut trees    dug pits    loaded and unloaded
railway cars and barges    where abortion was
inevitable    and sexual cruelty the rule    and where

a woman could be duly tortured for using rags
as tampons    or merely for adjusting her dress  
a certain Czech woman who knew every word
danced to the poems of Rilke    moving sinuously
to each of his Orphean sonnets    bowing gracefully
with the first notes of each Elegie: she felt the dark music

of Rilke’s heart    each soaring leap of the spirit    each lunge
toward grief      Though she is long gone    and we
no longer know her name    she is the one who showed
even a halting step could be a triumph    and a dance

on the poems of a dead poet    might redeem



  Names on a List
  January 23, 1995

David Ben-Zino, Adi Rosen, Damian Rosovski
Who were these soldiers Islamic Jihad killed?
In Tel Aviv I had slept in a young soldier’s room
— my shirts hung for a while in his closet,
my head crushed his pillow, and my feet
drank the chill from his floor.  Was he
among the murdered, this only son of my friends?
No, he was not in Netanya in the third week
of January, he was not in Tel Aviv, not
in Israel, not in the Middle East at all. 
Then let us not speak his name, not even
in a whisper: who are we to trust the gods
or the unseen powers?  My friends shall keep
their son, and I will sleep without dreaming. 
But who were these young soldiers?  Rafael
Mizrahi, Yehiel Sharvit, Yuval Tuvya how did
they live and what did they live for?  A month
earlier, in Jerusalem, I saw two soldiers at ease
at the Haas Promenade.  They were there to guard
children and the teachers of these children
and Uzis hung at their backs in stark diagonals.
They looked like soldiers, but I could see
they were really older brothers and would-be
boyfriends, and one joked with the teacher
whose clouds of copper hair outshone the midday
sun; the other ate his lunch and half-sprawled
in the scorched grass.  I saw their sisters
and cousins in the Judean Desert, in the spillway
of light that opened into dark, conflicted Jericho,
and they were waiting in the alleyways of the Old
City where tribes of tourists materialized from stone
and filled their arms with Yemenite jewelry and Druse
cloth.  I understand, but who was Gilad Gaon? who
Eran Gueta? who was David Hasson? who Eitan Peretz?
I saw them in Abu Ghosh, wolfing down hummus
in olive oil, small hills of falafel.  And they
were at the bus terminal in Tel Aviv, hauling
their battered duffels   at the Bahá’í shrine in Haifa
keeping watch in the sacred gardens   and I saw
them anointed with fire in the sunset that blossomed
over Ashkelon.  But you know these words are lies
and your hearts are not fooled by my stories
for Yaron Blum is dead   Ilie Dagan is dead  
Amir Hirschenson is dead   Anan Kadur is dead  
Maya Kopstein is dead   Soli Mizrahi is dead
Avi Salto is no longer with us   Daniel Tzikuashvili
is no longer with us     All the bright young flames
of Israel’s sun are dying   and I am here speaking
their names to you.