THE IRENA SENDLER POEMS

There is a new book out about Irena Sendler and the students who brought her story back into the light:  Life in a Jar:  The Irena Sendler Project, by Jack Mayer.  The research done by Jack and his wife Chip inspired this suite of poems:

RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

This must never be forgotten:  life goes on.
Irena Sendler has been named a Righteous Gentile:
she rescued 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto.
Names were written on slips of paper, buried in a jar under an appletree.

Irena Sendler has been named a Righteous Gentile:
elaborate false identifications, map of the sewers, every city wall.
Names were written on slips of paper, buried in a jar under an appletree.
Because this will soon be over I will give my child to you.

Elaborate false identifications, map of the sewers, every city wall;
babies were wrapped as packages, carried away on the trolley–
because this will be over soon I will give my child to you–
parceled child cried out in Yiddish;  driver evacuated the trolley to save.

Babies were wrapped as packages, carried away on the trolley;
older children remembered:  parents, the terror, all that was lost.
Parceled child cried out in Yiddish;  driver evacuated the trolley to save:
ordinary people, their terrible decisions, hidden lives, their shame.

Older children remembered:  parents, the terror, all that was lost;
babies adopted, baptized, alive,  brittle family names vanished away.
Ordinary people, their terrible decisions, hidden lives, their shame.
Man hiding children shot his neighbors who came to say they knew.

Babies adopted, baptized, alive,  brittle family names vanished away–
because I might be killed I will let my baby go–
Man hiding children shot his neighbors who came to say they knew.
This must never be forgotten:  life goes on.

APPLE TREE

I was a twig of apple
torn from my tree–
it bled.

Trimmed and grafted
I was fed
foreign sap like bitter water.

In spring, the bees.
My petals fell
but I did not die.

In autumn
I wonder why
other branches
bear yellow fruit
while mine,
on every swollen fingertip,
is red as blood.

THE PARTING

They took me in:  kind.
I took their name;   Their Jesus-
mark in the center of my forehead.
They gave me future;  I took it
in both my hands:  hiding, silence,
all of it, the price.

No picture of my parents.
I cannot now remember
their faces.  But the parting:

my mother did not cry.
Go, she said, just go.
My father would not release
my hand.  We’ll bring him back
the woman said, over and over:
I promise.  We’ll bring him
back.  When this is over
I promise we’ll bring him back.

DREAM

Darkness around me,
a dream of sound:
rustle of paper
tick-tick-tick-tick
voices muffled
as though through ash
weeping far away
When I cry out  I am alive, afraid
in a tongue I do not know,
a lurch and rumble,
swift silence,
quick steps.
I move rocking
above the ground.

THE TROLLEY

Yes, I knew what they were up to but
I didn’t much care:
my life barren enough
in the gray of this city,
the damned trolley,
every day the stinking crowd.
Fewer people–maybe not
a bad idea, in the long run.

But it was a baby voice
like my daughter’s
just learning to speak.
I don’t know what she said
but I knew she was scared.
I didn’t think–just did
what any decent father would do.

SHOOTING

So often on the steps or streets
we spoke:  How is his wife?  His child
with measles, or the price of bread.
They would help me, I thought,
if I were in need, and I, them.
But at my door that morning,
softly saying they knew,
and those children still asleep:
so frightened, so small,
by now their parents–
well, who can imagine,
and who wants to believe–?  The gun
I’d kept in the cupboard close, in case.
What else could I have done?

MY TIME

Now is my time
(or now the time is mine).
There are children in my city
(although I live outside).
Danger, danger,
and what will the powers do
and what will I do
and what am I doing
in my time?
What am I doing
with my time?

MFCP–This was published in  HABURAH NEWSLETTER, in Middlebury, Vermont, February, 2006

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