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Monthly Archives: January 2018

A few years after my mother and I visited Krakóv , I spent some time in that city again. After seeing the Disneyfication of the old ghetto Kazimierz, I vowed never to come back. This place of remembrance and contemplation, of sorrow and grief had become a milk-cow for commercial exploiters of false nostalgia. It made me sick.

Kaddish for Kazimierz
Yitgadal veyitkadash sh’mei raba
let it rest now, it is over – don’t pretend
b’alma divrah chirutei
don’t desecrate its slaughtered body
v’yamlich malchutei b’chayeichon
don’t put its corpse on show
uv’yomeichon uv’chayei
embalmed and made up
d’chol beit yisra’el
lipstick on putrified lips
ba’agalah u’vizman kariv
kohl on empty eye sockets

Yehei shemei raba mevorach
le’olam ul’almei almayah

yitbarach veyishtabach veyitpa’ar
you have earned the right to rest
veyitromam veyitnasei veyithadar
the right to be left alone, to mourn
veyitalei veyithalal
alone, undisturbed
shemei d’kudsha b’rich hu
Eternal One, send them away

le’eilah min kol birchata v’shirata
even in death you find no peace
tushbechata v’nechemata
but are bought and sold again
da’amiran b’alma v’imru amein
your memories twisted, on display

yehei shlama raba min shemaya
killing you again and again
v’chayim aleinu v’al kol yisra’el
heartless, ruthless nostalgia
v’imru amein

osei shalom bimromav
hu ya’asei shalom aleinu
v’al kol yisra’el
v’imru amein

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Graves

1
In a stone forest of
barely legible words
the trees whisper your greeting:
‘your unexpected existence
is without guilt –
not because, but despite
is what you are
feel welcome in our dead midst
living sprout
from a trunk presumed dead’.

2
I wanted to embrace and kiss them,
the cold sorrowful stones:
‘here I am, finally
I found you
in the maze of time’

there was no embrace
only the tips of my fingers
touched the rough hard skin
the underworld awoke
with a startled smile

after so many years, a voice!
the cool silence colours
in the shadowy depths
women with sheytls,
men in caftans shiver

my longing cannot bring back
the stones to life nor the ashes
the nameless not far from here
within the refuge of these ravaged walls

never before was I this close
each step pushes the distance along
my voice brings forth only silence
a last powerless look
I turn and leave.

3
the tender cracks sing
a long forgotten song
fear sinks deep –
in the awaiting ground
an unspoken question

how strange am I how close
to these ancestral graves –
will they mourn me or
refuse to speak my name,
still curse me?

will their curse damn me,
bring me to my knees
or make me revolt –
do I have to be like you,
because, because, because
and then?

how close am I how strange
to your perished world
but still –
our longing drives me
to this transparent dusk:
in vain?

4
While I softly caress the stone, the same
as she whose name I bear
she who died nameless
and sleeps without a name
while I softly caress this stone
the fog dissolves for a moment
time becomes transparent
then and later and now
the voice of the Eternal
sings in my head.

5
In this place
far away from the world
enclosed by walls
sprigs of ivy nurse
the stones and the dead
hidden like Your love
without beginning or end.

6
Small stone on big stone
salt tear in sweet pond
flesh of your flesh
if –
if I lay me down here, stretch
arms, legs on the soft ground
my roots will grow into the earth
reach out –
but never reach.

Ghosts

1
Standing among the speaking stones
I stare silently at the house
the scent of poverty in my nose
through the windows of time
I can see you on the porch
your pale face staring over the graves
– at me, or so it seems
but your eyes don’t see me
you don’t see me at all;
the stones become silent
the porch deserted
the windows reflect a broken sky
opaque as time.

2
shadow that enfolds me
and flees –
only patches
of boots, coat, beard
your voice hidden in time
sings in the shul nearby
your leather-wound hand
covers my eyes –
your feet dance away, away
from me –
shadow that flees
and enfolds me.

 

This is a cycle of poems I wrote in 1989 after a visit with my mother to Krakóv – where my family on my mother’s side came from.
I recently found them among my mother’s papers and I corrected and edited them. I do not pretend this is great poetry, but it reflects my thoughts and feelings upon visiting this emotionally charged city where my grandparents – and, for a couple of years, my mother – lived. My grandfather grew up in the Jewish ghetto Kazimierz, in a building that looks on the cemetery where the famous Rabbi Moses Isserles (writer of the Shulchan Aruch) is buried. My mother told me about the poverty and unsanitary circumstances in the ghetto; she saw it every time they visited her grandparents there. I visited the other cemetery, where many of my relatives (the ones who were lucky enough to die before the nazi occupation) are buried. I found graves of some of them.

I dedicate these poems to my Mother’s memory.

Intro
Two halves united
like Persephone in ancient times
led by your hand I enter
the land of shadows
as a bride – the gloomy king
forges in vain
chains made of Then

Outside new life beckons
the eternally young Queen
the sun caresses your hands, my skin –
then, underground chains rattle
me back in a soft whisper

Summer here, winter there
my life is split
since you gave me both
the gap closed
the Styx navigable
and me – a fragile bridge.

Streets

1
Buildings die slowly
grief shatters stones
skin bursts in nameless pain
doors as open wounds
never closed
walls mould feverishly

to die like this –
among strangers
listening, shivering
doorsteps wait for a beloved foot
life remembered in vain
in this emptiness
full of Then.

2
No flowers for empty streets
filled with decay and disgust
let the end come quickly now
body without a soul

buildings degraded to bricks
housing nothing but slimy rot
nothing will bring back together
what was separated by man.

Let us carry you to your grave
under a clear sky, in the light
of a cold, cold day
our eyes without tears.

3 Uprising in the ghetto
to stay to look to see
nameless courage in vain
streets covered with bodies,
warm, pierced – everywhere
you stand or walk
here they lay
feel the warmth of their blood
feel the softness of their strength
feel the harshness of their deaths
feel the unknown names –
etched in every stone.

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