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Poems from The Death Mazurka

  European Movements  

Córdoba to Hamburg   Bordeaux to
Strasbourg   Marseilles to Rome   Bucharest
to Belgrade   Kalisz to Lublin   Vienna to
Kishinev   Cracow to Lvov   Nomads,
why so restless?  Did you hear the voice
of Midsummer lightning?  All that back-
breaking portage: Granada to Corfu   Genoa
to Salonika, tireless!  Always hurrying
from one black patch to another: Cologne
to Bialystok   Prague to Kiev   Lisbon to
Amsterdam   Tallinn to Polotsk: ceaseless
in your translations!  Dear malcontents,
unsettled on dark nights under the moon
of horses: Soncino to Posen   Chernigov
to Frankfurt   Avignon to Tarnopol   Berdichev
to Worms   Exiles! Black Sea transports
Crimea Express   Zhitomir to Copenhagen
Helsinki to Antwerp   Starodub to Brest
whirling lights clustered at Satmar   in
the galaxy of Warsaw   starstreams   time
travelers on the dead continent   wrapped
in languages   in the Law's endless bindings
Why didn't you stay put in the whale's
belly?  Why didn't you pull the white sky
of silence over your heads?  Did the golden
bells of Chelmno charm you? the meadow flowers
of Majdanek bend their fiery cups?  Did you
rise to the black psalteries of Ravensbrück?
Wanderers! such desire for a life of Christian
culture! such anointings with sacred oils,
bathings in blessed waters!




  The Death Mazurka
  It was late — late in the silence —
yet a mangled tune still rose
as if from a needle trapped
in a warped and spinning groove:
an inarticulate moan
fragmented out of sense
but insistent it be known.

Footfalls turned me around:
a troupe of dancers spun
and kicked and dipped as one —
three score minus one,
and that one danced alone.
I watched them skip and prance
but followed only her.

And yes, the drum was swift
and kept a lively beat,
and violins sang sweet
then stridently miaoued —
a mocking sliding note.
She alone danced on
uncoupled, incomplete.

But the trumpets shrilled their tongues
and the saxophones crooned deep
and cymbals scoured the night
to a clashing brassy gleam.
How the women's earrings shined!
like sparks from a whirling fire
that never would be ash.

Then the men whisked off their hats
and bowed to the slide trombone
as though it sat enshrined.
But still she danced alone
at the edge of the wheeling ring:
I could feel the horizon tilt
when she veered close to me.

Then she turned   then I   then the night
blew back forty years:
I stood in a desolate place,
a reservoir of death
— I could kneel anywhere and drink!
Yes, here was the shul in its bones
and here Judenrein Square

and here a few scorched teeth
from some martyred, unknown saint.
The sky was a scroll of pain
— each star a sacred name!
I saw through time in that light.
But I turned and blood rained down
and I turned and dipped and drank

and could not take my fill:
I yearned to find her there.
And I turned toward darkness again
where dancers in masks like skulls
twirled in smoke and fire,
whirled in fire and smoke.

Now! screamed the violins.
And she was near as my heart
as we clasped each other and turned.
And Now! they shrieked.  And Now!