A bearded violinist, green-faced goats in Ariel flight,
topsy-turvy wooden houses air-born
above the blistered world, why do I feel
they are singing?
The windows are open, little mouths of light
that pour through as stars pour through darkness,
clouds above rooftops like tilted hats,
and in the window a woman leans out, her breasts
on the window frame, arms folded, smiling.
Why smile while the world shifts
and furniture tumbles, and men
wear the faces of mules?
Chagall’s father worked like a galley-slave.
His mother sold groceries—potatoes, salt—from home.
During the war, Chagall painted Jesus on the cross.
I am crucified like Jesus...I feel like I did when I was a boy,
in front of butchers’ windows, looking in at the calves, still alive,
lying beside the butcher’s hatchets and knives.
He painted the town, the cow, the rooster on the roof,
crowing, and the blue-legged chickens.
There, on Pokrovskaja Street, I was born for the second time,
hunchbacked villagers, herrings, green Jews, aunts and uncles...
lovers rising above the town, the flower
of the bride’s face, color descending like stars.
The silver, if it is silver,
is tarnished. From the chain
hangs a heart, crudely carved,
whose center holds a star,
initials on either side—C-N—
What do they stand for?
Not my parents’ names—Morris, Felice.
A date—16-1—my mother’s birthday,
46—the year I was born. And on the back,
words I can’t decipher—Polish words,
a language, my mother said, that could break
your tongue—or your body—if you
are Jewish—and that year—1946—
after the war, the man you meet
who wants to marry you gives you a heart
forged by hand, from who knows what—
some old, discarded spoon taken
from someone’s mouth, with a metallic
smell, like earth after rainfall,
when the world is washed clean
and the leaves have ceased
their shivering fall.
A child of Polish Holocaust survivors, Gail Newman was born in a Displaced Persons’ Camp in Lansberg, Germany. Her poems have appeared in journals including Nimrod International Journal, Prairie Schooner, and Prism and in anthologies including Ghosts of the Holocaust. She was the co-founder and editor of Room, A Women’s Literary Journal. Her new book, Blood Memory, chosen by Marge Piercy for the Marsh Hawk Press 2020 Poetry Prize won the Northern California Authors and Publishers Gold Award for Poetry was the 2021 Best Book Awards winner in the "Poetry: Religious" category.