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.
As a child, a Jewish child no less, December was always a bit difficult. We had Channukah, which no Jew would dare claim grew solely to compete with Christmas, although we all knew that was precisely what had happened.
The problem was Christmas, but had nothing to do with Jesus, or the church or even its historical teachings about the supposed role we Jews played in that story, a role for which we had been paying for two millennia.
The problem was far more basic, and all you needed to do was drive down virtually any street in any city and it would be at once apparent. Christmas-celebrating homes were decked out in all colors of lights, while Jewish homes, those few who competed, were left with a palate of white and blue, or up to nine candles, and that was a guaranteed for sure last place finish in the December game.
I am pressed into a seat that would conform only to the body of some alien creature, or so it seems, for hours into a flight that increasingly seems eternal, particularly for the baby two rows back, who, like me would much rather be anywhere else. The crew dims the cabin lights the universal indicator of “Don’t think of bothering us, we fed you and will give you a snack in the morning, only if you behave, so off to sleep with you all.” As my back and neck rebel, I remind myself it could be far worse, the food poisoned, perhaps, not merely inedible, for this, despite appearances, is only the second ring of hell.
Richard Wilbur lives in Massachusetts and in Key West, Florida according to his dust jackets. If you set sail westward from San Diego you may find your dream of China, of the endless wall which draws the stares and wonder more foreboding more forbidden even than the city, which you visit to sate yourself of lights, sirens and the blood heat of steam grates. It is far easier than digging and far less dirty, and the walls of the sea rise more slowly. Once it was a risky journey the danger of the edge looming over the horizon, but then digging was no option, pushing deeper with your crude shovel, knees bloody, until, at last, you broke through with dreams of the dragon as you fell into the limitless void. Now you sail with dreams of the Pacific sky, although water has no need of names. The poet has grandchildren now, and it is to them to dream of the China that was.
First appeared in Midnight Mind, Number Two (2001) and again in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008)
If Einstein was correct relatively speaking, the arrow of time, rusted in place, indomitable, can be freed, torn from its mooring and set adrift defying its natural inclination.
As the lights of Seoul were engulfed by a blanket of clouds which in turn ebbed, revealing a universe spread out, and I settled slowly into sleep, Thursday faded into dreams.
First sun sliced through the interstices of the shades as fog dissipated from San Francisco Bay. Like Jonah, having atoned, I crawled from the belly of a great beast,
metallic Sheol, and stepped
into a Ninevah of glass and steel, rubbing eyes, rejecting day. Stumbling the corridors and down a ramp I slid into my seat. As gravity was again defied, Thursday unfolded, inviting but having learned nothing I faded into dreams.