It is not that I am getting forgetful as I grow older, it is merely that I am replacing old information with new, my mind is large but its capacity is still finite.
So if I forget your name when I see you, it is not because you do not matter, although that could be the case, it is simply that I now remember the names of others and yours exceeded capacity.
It is not that I do not care about you, assume that I do whether true or not, help me by introducing yourself again, a gentle reminder of where and how we met, unless, of course, you have forgotten me as well, in which case I am pleased to have the chance to meet you.
For eight days each December they call out to me as the flame of the candles flickers out, “Remember me” they say in unison, “remember me”, in the voice of the child, an old woman, in Yiddish, in Polish, German, Czech, Latt. I want to remember but I cannot see a face reduced to ash, blended into the earth of a farm field outside Treblinka, the winter wheat remembers. I want to remember but I cannot stroke the head of a young man whose bones mingle with his brother’s, countless others sharing a mass grave, his skull and brains painting the trunks of a nearby stand of trees. I want to remember but cannot hear the sweet tenor of the cantor whose tongue was torn from his mouth for refusing to speak of the tunnels beneath his once beloved Warsaw. I want to remember the lavender scent of the young woman, fresh from the showers but there is only the stench of putrid flesh and Zyklon, of bodies crammed into the converted boxcar. I want to remember the taste of a warm challah on Shabbat eve that she lovingly shaped into a braid and pulled from the oven, but her arms were neatly removed by the surgeon before she was cast naked into the Polish winter. I want to remember them all, their names in a memorial but they are only numbers tattooed onto endless arms. The candles die and their voices fall silent for yet another year.
First Appeared in Rattle, Issue 7, Summer 1997. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.
Walking down the helical road, untwisting as you go you discover places you never imaginged visiting, nothing like the path you thought you knew well.
Stop and claim your new heritage, find yourself on an alien map, bury yourself in books of new and ancient history.
Pause here and consider a King of Scotland, knights and lords, in the far distance know that you claim a link to a man so honored that he died by hanging, but was then beheaded and drawn and quartered.
Too late to unswab your cheek, so simply enjoy your ride.
This is what I would tell my sons: “You came from an ancient people, a heritage of poets and tailors, or thieves and blasphemers, of callous men and slaughtered children. I would give you these books, written by God, some have said, although I am doubtful but driven by Erato, without doubt.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “I didn’t go to war — there were so many options and I chose one where my feet would touch only Texas mud, where the only bullets were quickly fired on the rifle range. I wasn’t one of the 56,000. I didn’t come home in a body bag. But I do stop at the Wall each time I visit D.C. and say farewell to those who did.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “You have never known the hunger for a scrap of bread pulled from a dumpster, you have never spent a night on a steam grate hiding under yesterday’s newspapers from the rapidly falling snow. You never stood nervously at the waiting room of a dingy clinic waiting for a young, uncaring doctor to announce that antibiotics would likely clear up the infection but you should avoid any form of sex for a couple of weeks.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “You come from a heritage of poets.”
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008