A Literary Magazine in Support of the Jewish Community

Two Poems by Karen Alkalay-Gut

Absence

“What are you looking for?”

we’d ask Mother, as she rummaged

a cupboard or a drawer or the phone book.

“My lost youth,” she’d answer

absent-mindedly, having forgotten

whatever had occupied her mind

when she first began to search.

 

The bombs, the soldiers, the streets

covered with bodies, the story of the children

smashed against the wall, her babies

washed down the drain in the bathtub in Danzig,

they were always

right there in the cupboard, the drawer,

the book next to the telephone.

Their Tattoos

Their Tattoos-Image 1
Their Tattoos-Image 2
Their Tattoos-Image 3

At the annual picnic of the New Immigrants Society

in the park shelters at Ontario Lake Beach,

while all the children went to swim

I disguised my fear of water and assuaged my boredom

by concentrating on organizing the numbers

exposed to the sun on the refugees’ arms

into some kind of arithmetical sequence.

 

I knew enough to be discreet,

counting the history of their agonies,

without looking directly at the tattoos.

But their arms were bare, exposed,

as they sat telling indiscreet tales

around the samovar and the hill of sugar

and they had nothing to hide

from one another.

 

Now I cannot remember

a single cipher

except the number 1

that looked so much more fundamental

than what we learned in math class.

Karen Alkalay-Gut

Karen Alkalay-Gut’s latest books include the Yiddish/English Inheritance (Beit Leyvik, 2021), Egypt: An Israelite Returns (Simple Conundrums, 2021), and the French/English Surviving Her Story (Corlevour, 2020). Retired professor of Tel Aviv University, she now chairs the Israel Association of Writers in English.

 

Karen Alkalay-Gut