LIGHTS

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.

FINITE LOOP

As it turns out, life
is an ongoing process of accretion
and deconstruction, of growth
and eventual shrinkage.

I started with 20 teeth
I am told, and got to 32,
only to fall back to 23
thanks to orthodontia and wear.

We start with 270 or more
bones, but we knit that number
down to 206, or in my case under
200, the orthopaedist’s handiwork.

And with time we progress
from diapers and being pushed
around to walking, running,
driving ourselves in many ways,

but in the end, for many of us,
we revert to childhood, but one
where the future is behind us,
and the past is that to which we cling.

OF THEE I SING

My ancestors stole your tongue
and left you mute in a world
you could not grasp.
                                           Now
as I search for words of forgiveness
I can find none, for my voice
is clogged with foreign phrases
that once told of your ancestors
who lived amid these rocks.
We schooled you, stealing
your spirit, which whispers to us
as the sun climbs slowly
over the great stone set deep
into the endless desert.
When the wind comes down
from the north, it sings a song
which cuts through our coats
and deeply into our bones.
There is no one who will claim us
when we are plundered for display
in some museum, no one to sing
a blessing to ward off the spirits
that will haunt us into the next life.
The ghosts of your people walk
among us and we can, at last,
hear their whispered entreaties
carried on the wind
deep into the canyon.

FEATHERS

He crouched in the hollow
in the ancient cliff
careful not to disturb
the bones scattered
just in the shadows behind.
He waited patiently
until he heard the sweep
of the great wings
and the mighty bird
alighted on its nest.
He reached out quickly
and plucked two feathers
never more, and pulled back
into the shadows
of his ancestors.
He carried the feathers
bound with a leather strap
close to his heart
to ward off the evil
that swept down
off the Wyoming plains
licking at the Wind River.
He grew old, his once
black hair streaked in gray
and he knew his time
was coming, it would be
a good day to die,
the sun high over
the mountains, his feathers
ready to carry his spirit
to the sky people
to return to the mighty eagle
from whom he had
accepted life.