2 Poems – Reizel Polak

From Warsaw

   Yossele, of blessed memory,
       our neighbor, a fighter
   in the Warsaw Ghetto, who forty
       years later stood by the mohel
   at our son’s circumcision,
       remarked to my husband, ‘Your son,
   you know, he didn’t even cry.’

   Three large bricks
       saved from the Warsaw Ghetto are set
   as a mason would lay them.
       There is no way to know their place
   in the wall or imagine
       what they might have witnessed.
   I stood, hesitated, in front of the bricks,
       then touched them—

   how coarse, how dry to my fingers—
       I wanted to leave and go
   straight to the Kotel to rest
       my hands on the stones where their crevices
   overflow with notes and petitions
       and longings, where the women
   weep Psalms, and the wall
       is wet with tears, with kisses.


The Chairs at Potsdam
       April 1995, Reunion of The Lost Transport, April 1945

On this trip to elsewhere,
shoulder to shoulder, standing,
early evening in the mansion’s
tall-windowed light, a quartet
plays Brahms, all sombre.
An official, German, begins
a mea culpa where the language
of his speech moves to Hebrew,
to English, every word spoken
returns to German, Hebrew, English.
I watch, beside my husband,
younger among this crowd
of the living, elderly with spouses,
children, grandchildren, in this grand,
airless room. Standing, leaning, weary,
thirsty, hungry, from the day’s long
journey—from Belsen to Berlin.    
No chairs to sit on, only the royal
gilded armchairs, cordoned off,
circled round the giant, red-draped
table where Heads of State –
heads of lions carved on the shoulders
of their chairs – met a half-century ago.
Little by little I step through
the tight crowd. One agéd woman,
her husband, others, sit strong,
trespassed the red-braided cordon,
by the vast, red-draped table.
Our eyes meet, she smiles, aware,
welcomes my nod—as she sits
seated on Truman’s, or Stalin’s,
or on Churchill’s chair.

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