Eastern Europe after the War |
Counting the Holocaust |
Army Doctor, Unit 731 |
Names on a List |
Praying for My Sister
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
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
Army Doctor, Unit 731
From the testimony of Yuasa Ken
His father had a practice in Shitamachi,
the old district of Tokyo, and a hunger
to be a doctor grew inside him. When the war
knocked at his window, he was ready:
you can’t cure the soon-to-be-dead
without doctors. Dispatched to Shansi
province in China, he flew like a night moth
to the hospital, where the bitter cold
did not daunt him: he was a warrior,
a samurai in a fresh white coat. Still,
he felt his bones go cold and his will waver,
for he knew what manner of death lived there.
At the hospital, he stepped into the circle
of his destiny, where others had gathered,
but only to act out their supporting roles:
he was the one who would follow orders
or issue commands. The smiling Red Cross nurses
had been over this ground before
but never with such a good-looking young doctor,
and their cheerful demeanor made him think:
What if this man tries to flee — if he dies
under the knife, without a last meal or a call
to his family, without his Shansi gods clustered
around him? He thought these things, but they
were not his concern. If he did not practice
on the living, how would he learn? He would not
lose heart with everyone watching and made the log
lie down: he would not be embarrassed by weakness.
The anesthetic took effect, but the appendix
was hard to locate, and the opening of the pharynx
was a puzzle to resolve, like the opening of a gate
in a walled garden. When this prisoner was neatly
dissected, yet would not die, he, Yuasa Ken, watched
the director of the hospital inject air into his heart.
This was the first time he understood the power
that lived in his uniform, in his surgeon’s tools,
in his hands, and each incision he made after this
seemed easier. He practiced sewing up intestines
that had slipped from living bodies, and he watched
as the dentist excised healthy teeth as the urologist
scalpeled testicles, and he took pride in these things:
he was a loyal servant of the Japanese nation.
Gradually, he came to enjoy his accomplishments
and, in town, would swing his shoulders: the girls loved
his swagger, and all the local men deferred to him —
everyone admires an officer! The city moved
with the merest rise in his voice, with the merest dip.
Sake overflowed his cup.
* * *
After the war, he had eleven years to think, but then
he was released from prison, and the nurses
who had served with him took his face in their hands:
their words were softer and more fragrant than cherry
blossoms torn and scattered by the wind. But an old pain
flooded him, and he asked them to remember:
they had been with him at Shansi. Hadn’t they
held down his victims and complained, Sleep, sleep —
drug give!, in that parody of Chinese? Didn’t they feel
the same shudder he felt rush through them now,
as if death had brushed their hearts?
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.
Praying for My Sister
This earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.
I went to Acco and prayed for my sister.
It was a bleak day in January, the northernmost coast
of the kingdom. The bus ride from Jerusalem took hours.
What is a day to the heart that seeks absolution?
I had taken this duty on myself: I would stand in the Báb’s garden
where Haganah soldiers had been murdered by the British;
I would speak for her words of hope and comfort.
This was the realm of passionate martyrdom,
and I would read from Bahá’í scripture, The Fire Tablet
and The Seven Valleys. It was late afternoon and the sky
was rapidly darkening — soon there would be rain.
No one stood with me in this haunted place, but I reached out
to my sister through these words; I reached out to her God
for her, as the cool drops fell . . . and I felt the spirit of my sister
touch my lips, the breath of an old Spirit graze my cheek.
In Haifa, too, I prayed for her: at the great temple,
under the gold-leafed dome. Deep in the sacred gardens,
the sea stirred the ramparts; light blossomed
on the ripening fruit. I took off my shoes and entered.
The quiet approached me.
I prayed for my sister there. I asked for Bahá’u’lláh’s blessing
to descend on her like cool rain, to sweeten her days
with the scent of lush blossoms. In that small chapel,
I could not tell if the Earth had, at last, become one country,
but I knew that my sister should be minister of a world at peace.
I prayed for my sister in Acco and Haifa, and I prayed
for her again at the Wall, for this was the place
where the power of life fully spoke to me, where history
and heaven seemed entwined. I prayed for her
in the Judean hills, where the zealots had known God
through the strength of community and isolation;
at Stella Carmel, where Christian missionaries offered Christ
to my wandering heart (and where I said grace for them
in my heart’s best Hebrew). I spoke to my sister words barely spoken,
until what I murmured to myself felt like the sweetest blessing.
A Child of the Millennium
He’s five months old now — a little short
on experience — but if he could speak,
Jake would sit with the Dalai Lama on a red
and golden throne and hold forth on happiness
and compassion on freeing the mind from vengeance
and regret and living in exile from the sacred home:
he’s seen the end of days . . . and the beginning.
He doesn’t know about race or gender
or that we are murdering the planet that the earth
is smoldering with underground fires and with the bone-
fires of hatred He doesn’t know about ethnicity
or religion and will not take with him into the new century
memories of calcined corpses or an interior landscape
peopled with napalmed children.
What Jake is best at has nothing to do with genocide
or the acid tides of history He travels in realms
where tenderness is a face that brushes his face
He feels the strength of those around him and their love
and time ticks at his wrist like the gentlest rain His eyes
are the most translucent lakes, his smiles tiny suns
that shine a clear light on the living.
In the Woods, 1951
I remember how
the light pawed down
and, in the
green drench of summer,
we were kings of the forest and not its slowly drowning sons.
Learning to Dance, 1956
It was the
50s, and all of us
teach me to
dance. You were
how to hold
you — how to hold
I was falling
into shadows. When I breathed
to a clearing
where tall grasses whispered
You moved me
deeper into the music
to change the
moment, if only the quiet
that I had
rhythm that I could swing,
who would pull
me near to her in love,
A Summer Night
Such a warm
said it was high time
And I called
out in anger
But then the
as its brassy
What the End Was Like
All I could
see was my mother’s broken face.
at the pale
lashes that barely clung
drift of whiteness. The breath still lived
to the bed
where her soul was unhooking itself
and knew that
the darkness of space had entered her.
God cannot be directly the cause
St. Catherine of Siena
I am she who is not. And if I should claim to be
anything of myself, I should be lying through my teeth!
On a country road, she saw Jesus. Only six,
she felt the world stop for her and draw her
out of time: in the bleak gray-streaked
north Italian sky, Christ sat in glory on his throne.
A year later, she knew she would be His bride
and entered the region of prayer and silence:
her family faded to shadow and solitude
wrapped her close. This separateness was a gift
she had not looked for, a sentient delight,
and she saw this movement inward with perfect
clarity, as if a cross of illuminated stones
had been set in the earth for her
and, at twelve, she sheared her gold-brown hair
and took a vow not to yield to the will of her parents:
she swore off jewels, gowns, silken tresses.
The sinuous threads of the marriage bed would not
bind her. When they punished her with menial chores,
with forced companionship, she bit down on her tongue.
Finally, she was given a small, cold, dark cell
where she could fast and pray. Instead of satin,
she wore horse hair cropped close to the skin,
so that it tore at her milky body. Instead of petticoats
and pinafores, she clasped to her soft breast
an iron-spiked bodice. And, at sixteen,
when nearly all of her childhood’s delicacy and sweetness
had been bled from her, she put on the black habit
of the Dominicans, as if she were a widow and not
the bride of God. And she went deep into desert stillness
but not as that Jewish wanderer had, in rough sandals
and a burnoose of white linen — not as He, to linger
in solitude under dazzling tapestries of night’s Egyptian
skies. Her departure from the sensory riches of the world
from the sweet pampering of flesh a simple day permits
took her instead into ever more stark yet intimate silences
where she pledged body and bone to her savior: her strength
and patience, her blood and spirit — His.
As a child, she had known such pleasure in sunlight,
in the fragrance of food in the trills and tremolos
of laughter, she was for a time called by her mother
Euphrosyne — and the grace of joy had been hers:
the parti-colored shapes of the planet had spoken to her
had revealed to her the aura of a hidden realm,
kingdom with no earthly king heaven with no earthly sun.
Most of her life, she supped on the sanctified wafer
her drink the holy spirit. What sleep she had rose up
and departed from her in obedience to her will.
What daylight she allowed herself she dedicated
to caring for the destitute—the most disheartening
cases — the repulsive the maimed the incurably ill.
At twenty, during an outbreak of plague, she soothed
the stricken and buried them with her own hands.
She saved many, who otherwise would have gone out
of the darkened world a multitude of pale and flickering
flames. Soon there was a quickening of converts,
an ecstatic dance of souls that fell like leaves ripped
from wind-raked branches but that fell singing.
Because she denied herself rest and sumptuousness,
spiritual knowledge coursed through her — streamlets of dark
sweet wine. Bright and fragile as a lily, she spoke with passion
and acuity. Pope Gregory listened to her words.
Five years before her death, she took communion
in the little church of St. Christina in Pisa and watched
as 5 blood-red rays streamed from the cross: 5 rays of light
with the dark radiance of blood 5 stars that shone down on her
and burned her 5 nails of light that pierced her —
hands feet and heart — so that she would be afire forever now,
though these wounds would remain invisible until her death.
Knowing this, who wouldn’t call on her, Catherine Benincasa,
to safeguard her health to shield his house against burning?
On her advice, the papal court abandoned Avignon
and Rome blossomed again as a garden for the spirit.
At 33, she rose up to regions of untrammelled light,
yet her body remained in the purgatory of living beings
who washed her and severed part from part, for Siena alone
could not own her for each fiefdom of Italy would savor
who she was.
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!
Landscape after Battle
For Andrzej Wajda
To a nocturne accompaniment —
Chopin — they perform Liberation.
As they starved to Vivaldi.
As they burned to Bach.
You ask us to remember when a corpse
was esteemed 'incompletely processed'
that could not, of itself, rise
above the ashfields . . . and dance.
Andrzej, you understand the silence
of your poets: self-hate and catechetical
obedience; violent, unassimilable grief.
Life should taste sweet, milk warm
from the nipple, but in your language
it is salt and blood.
You give us a victim to remind us why we speak.
Her name is Nina and — offkey — she sings,
and we are moved by her bare legs
and her loose hair, and we are almost
ready to follow . . . Red leaves
build soft mounds under the emptying trees
Poland, here is your Jew!
She will swallow the wafer, translucent
as pale skin, and kiss your numb body
— unkosher meat!
And she will draw you out of your Christ-
blazoned prison, until each bloodied finger
wakens from its dream, until your strangled
voice bears witness:
One life is history enough to mourn.
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
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!
A Lost Language
For Natalia Sangama
Pampa Hermosa, Peru
She dreams in Chamicuro
but remembers to speak
in Spanish or no one
will understand her
The lake that floats
near her village — a deeper azure
than the sky — without her words,
no one will fully know it:
what poisons and obscures
can not open the shining leaves
She dreams in Chamicuro as her
ancestors did but she is the last
to feel this tongue in her mouth
the last for whom exact meaning
can not be expressed in Spanish
Who is this grandmother but the lost
soul of Peru and the Amazon
unwilling to vanish?
In her thatched hut, she can swing
her grandchildren and laugh
but she can’t keep out the pulse
of salsa or stop the Spanish sun
from entering like a powerful vine
that winds around her throat
She will be next to die to wither
into brittle twigs of imagery
Her grandchildren will recall a lake
but it will have no name in Chamicuro.
When she was a girl, missionaries made the Chamicuro
children kneel when they used their language. At least
half the world’s 6,000 languages will die out in this century.
For Ilan Halimi
kidnapped & tortured by French Muslims
Paris, January-February 2006
We do not call our dead shaheeds.
They do not blow up planes or babies
or leap into flames to fly to the heavens,
not for sex with a dead universe
of virgins not for all the davening rabbis
of the holy land and not for God.
You, Ilan, will be recalled as a victim,
one more death in millennia-long caravans
of the martyred that trail from Babylonia
to Jerusalem and back. Your body
was more brutalized than many,
but little children in Treblinka and Ponary
were treated worse: nothing is left of them
but our will to remember: no bones, no
headlines, no somber marches in the halal cities
of Eurabia. Because you were tortured in French
and Arabic, you will be a symbol, but the children
did not grow into their names. What is the meaning
of such cruelty to us, who were born in the shadow
of Shoah? We who remain alive will mourn you
as a brother or as a son who left us wounded,
maimed on a highway, blind and deaf in a wood,
burnt and abandoned again, Ilan, by the God
in whom we ache to believe.
It was Frank Broich's boat, thirty-two footer,
It was Broich's boat that armed me for the next day
* * *
Father, I want to stand again at starboard as the boat
It is that connection with you I want again, that giving
For my daughters
then slowly unsheathes the sun — a changeableness
and shadow. You drink deeply this moss-tangled
of the body, sweet odors of star-blossoming
of fresh coffee, vanilla bean, tapioca,
some subterranean text darker than Swahili
It's something about the trees that gives
of light risen from the underworld
risen, and the mind a full moon tidal
They would not touch a Jew’s head
They were not disposed to wound
there had been no fun in murder
unheeded, what the killers had done,
They stood, oh, so meekly, at their place
for Glory Sasikala Franklin
Not long ago in India, the rare home radio
The day would fly like that: to Vividh Bharati
Never mind the distances: each station zinged in
Your favorite was Pussycat’s “Broken Souvenir”
There was “Lonely Cowboy,” “Goodbye Hawaii,” “Oh, Susannah”
And you sang along with him.
In the Slipstream
for Lynne Cox
while ice pelted the water. It was like flying through a rain
You called it “beautiful and amazing” and dedicated
At fourteen, in the shipping lanes at night, in deep fog,
between Catalina and the California coast. For twenty-six miles,
A year later, you completed the fastest crossing of the English
each victory that followed — even on that colder-than-night
when you finally knew you would never stop.
You were being “dragged along by the slipstream”
but the whale was lost and searching for his mother
At that moment, the reason for your existence became evident:
of more than a mile, each stroke of your powerful arms
Under Jerusalem's Sun
for Frances Zalcberg
When you walked to work and again when you
But the Jordanians would not let you enter, and you climbed
On the slope of the mountain, you found a sheltered space
“Papa,” you said, “look around. Jewish soldiers are standing guard,
It was eerily quiet, and you moved with extreme slowness.
A Translator in Auschwitz
in memory of Mala Zimetbaum
You were twenty-four, Mala, when the Nazis
In the women’s camp at Birkenau, your command
And soon, from fire and ash, from blood and darkness,
All your life, Mala, you were first to question, first
was not revelation, but destiny. How fitting it was
Amelia in Vietnam
for Amelia Haselkorn
I. Sa Pa Journeys
Roosters and cicadas wakened the day.
Later, you hiked to the waterfall.
You hammered rocks into fragments
Then you swam in the river.
Next morning, you devoured breakfast:
Too soon, you would trek to the road
You were in Sapa: your village
The second day was best: you helped
you were tugged under and pulled into rocks.
Luckily, you survived. How else
Only chocolate at the French bakery
You stayed with a Red Dao family —
II. Hue, Hội An, Hà Nội
In Hội An, you fished, farmed, cooked,
Maybe what made you feverish
You are in Hue, and tonight
Yesterday, you went to the Cham ruins,
You liked best the burial chamber of Khai Dinh —
Today, you see the War Remnants Museum
At night, the shadows fade a little
After your adventures in Sa Pa and Hue,
On your first day back, you watch a water-
At night, you long to fall into your own bed again,
A Bench in Tel Aviv
or is it that young Israelis, especially the women,
They must be beautiful, these dark-haired women,
Their eyes don’t look away; instead, they turn towards me.
Behind her, a newly washed sheet flaps repeatedly
The day is white with sun, dry and intemperate
More beautiful girls float in the green fire of afternoon,
As they drift in a haze of tenderness and devotion,
Father, I see now I am still mourning you!
the fact of your existence spurred me on:
and kept true intimacy in reserve, as if the history
And when, in your eighth decade, you emerged,
reached out to me, winter came too fast
Snow Is the Poem Without Flags
for Orhan Pamuk
What is whiter than stars yet darker
Only snow answers this call to mystery
And what is its name, this creature
is history and the heart its blue-white body,
against her face? Only the white breath of the wind
that prays in a thousand tongues and knows
brushing the face of the snow that was born
immersed as we are in summer in the heat
of darkness everything on fire with a great
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