Sunday, May 05, 2019

Honoring Yom Hashoah

Promise Through Barbed Wire
—Photo by Joyce Odam, Sacramento, CA
—Poems by Michael Brownstein, Chicago, IL, 
in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day 
(Yom Hashoah), May 2nd


One morning you wake up to a world in color,
the next everything black and white.
Did you know we had to pay to board the trains to the camps
and they told us to have courage when they tattooed our arms?

I was not courageous.

When I woke much later, I was outside the heavy fence
discarded like litter among dead twigs and garbage.
I felt a bruise on my face, no blood—it had dried—my head hurt
and I crept away in the darkness into the forest until I found shelter.
The next morning I searched for clean water, found fresh fruit,
and went searching for anyone else who might help me.

I did not want to be found by those evil men and cruel women.

In the afternoon it came to me my mother, my father, my only brother,
three sisters were nowhere near where I was hiding.
I thought to go back but could not.

I found a shaded space and cried.

In time I found others hiding in the woods, children like me,
a few adults, and we became community—together we survived,
found a path to a safer place, then a road to one even better,
and we remained family until the world was once again OK to live in.

One morning you wake to a country you call your own,
the next you find yourself in a bear's trap,
later you discover alone.
I was lucky. I discovered friends—not only Jews like me,
but others who talked with thick accents, had deep blue eyes,
scars and broken bones that never set right, people of strength and power.
We made it to the opening and were rescued.

Years later, I see the numbers on my arm, and I am proud to be Jewish,
my younger sister and brother living on my block, our children
nearby, our grandchildren surrounding us—we remain strong—
this no one can ever take from us.




When the Nazis told us they were going to destroy everything Jewish in Denmark,
we were not concerned. We were ready. We had already made our plans.
When they arrived, we had hidden almost every Jew in our nation,
we found hiding places, tunnels, safe roads and we had many volunteers—
everywhere volunteers—we were Vikings and we were not to be dishonored.
We did not think never again; we thought no, never. Period. Exclamation mark.
We worked through that night, gathered huge amounts of money, and by dawn
our Jews—our friends—our neighbors—crossed the waters into Sweden.
Never again is never enough. We made sure the Jews of Denmark could come home.
When the war ended, we were there to celebrate and rebuild our lives together.



When he told us he was going to plant a tree
in this place of little hope and dark despair,
we laughed—and laughter felt good—and then we watched
as his tree took root and thrived. Bit by bit
we began to help him even as the evil in this place
broke the seedlings tender trunk in two, not once but twice.
No matter, he told us calmly and smiled. Some of us
began to wander from prayer back into darkness,
but many of us remained strong—the tree a symbol of resolve,
fortitude, spiritual strength—and it began to pollard and coppice,
long strings of life growing from its second break.
Soon it spread itself outwards, gained stature, prosper,
and we—especially those who wandered from prayer—came back,
openly ignoring the evil surrounding us, watering it with our saliva,
fertilizing it with our excrement and blood.
Soon it began to take shape, twelve sturdy branches,
twelve tribes, twelve prayers daily to bless the strength of our tree,
and we kept every Sabbath in the security of our community,
celebrated every holiday, every holy day, grew strong
like the tree, healthy somehow, whole and capable,
fully prepared when the Americans arrived late one afternoon.

(prev. pub. in Poetry Super Highway)


Many thanks on this Cinco de Mayo to Michael Brownstein for these moving poems about the Holocaust. About them, he says, “Though almost all of my family perished during the war, no, this is not autobiographical.” His latest poetry volume,
A Slipknot Into Somewhere Else: A Poet's Journey To The Borderlands Of Dementia, was recently published by Cholla Needles Press (see for a listing of this and his other books). Thanks again, Michael!

Thanks also to Joyce Odam for allowing us to re-use her wonderful photo, which, although posted last Tuesday, seemed remarkably appropriate to Michael's theme. Remember: Medusa's Kitchen will post previously-published work—just give us the initial credits.

—Medusa, honoring Yom Hashoah