A Literary Magazine in Support of the Jewish Community

Two Poems by Susan Cohen

Night of the Murdered Poets

       August 12, 1952—Lubyanka Prison, Moscow

On the night of the murdered poets, the world

did not stop. Owls made field mice tremble

under the fixed flags of their wings. Sunrise

refused to sadden. In a forest, ferns lifted

their fingers and saluted the fog as always.

Human life continued with its small amnesias,

kettles, children, and bullets still whistling.

The world has more poets and more than

enough languages for ordering executions.

Afterwards, the condemned men’s poems,

alive in Yiddish, languished without breath,

the patterned lines unlike snakes

who outlive their skins. Someone named it

The Night of the Murdered Poets

to suggest an essential innocence, or

because it was a title no poet could resist.

Only a few were poets. You can look it up,

while every day existence continues

to write itself without protest. While

the golden willows in Siberia keep bowing.

Not for the poets. Reminding us of weeping

is what some words and willows do.

I Imagine Nechama Writing the Poems No One Bothered to Keep

I Imagine Nechama-Image 1
I Imagine Nechama-Image 2
I Imagine Nechama-Image 3

She can be any kind of poet I want her to be

and I want words dancing in her ears

like a vertigo we share, each new poem trembling

on the page tentative as a butterfly

 

who doesn’t know yet if its wings

will lift it over continents.

She shows me a widowed heart.

A migrant mind. A sense of the absurd

 

at how many Yiddish words describe misfortune,

and how few people can read Yiddish words.

Now she writes at the kitchen table while trollies

clang their brassy Boston tongues and my mother

 

is a child who hears the poems like dirges.

Nechama boasts the Jewish Daily Forward

chose one poem to print. A grown son says

she dreamed it up. I want her to dream me up

 

left-handed and dark-eyed and doubtful,

something—or nothing—like her.

She says to me: What are you waiting for?

Your mother gave you a great-grandmother

 

with poetry inside her. I gave you a new country

where women don’t write with invisible ink.

My life story’s lost. Pick up your pen

that is allowed to say anything.

Susan Cohen

Susan Cohen’s collection, Democracy of Fire, is forthcoming later this year from Broadstone Books. She is also the author of Throat Singing (WordTech; 2012) and A Different Wakeful Animal (David Martinson-Meadowhawk Prize, Red Dragonfly Press; 2016). Her recent poems appeared in 32 Poems, Northwest Review, PANK, Prairie Schooner, Southern Humanities Review, the Southern Review, and won the 11th Annual Poetry Prize from Terrain.org judged by Arthur Sze and the 2021 Red Wheelbarrow Prize judged by Mark Doty. Her translations from Yiddish of the poet Rajzel Zachlinksy can be found in Asymptote, Los Angeles Review, and Women’s Voices for Change. She lives in Berkeley, California.

 

Susan Cohen