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.

ANOTHER GHETTO

She sits
in the bookstore cafe
her head covered
by a linen kerchief
bobby pinned to the
mass of walnut curls.
She cradles the cup
of cooling coffee
and stares down
at the slim book
of Amichai, yielding
to the Hebrew letters
that seem to dance
across the page.
I sit at the adjoining table
with my used
copy of Bialik, translated.
I glance at her
“I’ll miss him”
with a nod to Amichai
then “where are you from?”
She shifts
in her seat, legs
crossing, pulling back
staring over
my shoulder at
the slowly spinning fan,
then at the book.
I look for her eyes
but they dance away,
my hands clasp
and                  unclasp,
fingers drum on the table.
She mutters,
“Atlanta.”
“What part?”
“Warsaw, inside
the walls and wire,
that place
from which so few of us ever
manage to escape.”