"Cleansings" is a Holocaust poem I wrote while working with Holocaust survivors like Yala Korwin to translate Polish and Yiddish Holocaust poems into English.
by Michael R. Burch
Walk here among the walking specters. Learn
inhuman patience. Flesh can only cleave
to bone this tightly if their hearts believe
that G-d is good, and never mind the Urn.
A lentil and a bean might plump their skin
with mothers’ bounteous, soft-dimpled fat
(and call it “health”), might quickly build again
the muscles of dead menfolk. Dream, like that,
and call it courage. Cry, and be deceived,
and so endure. Or burn, made wholly pure.
One’s prayer is answered, “god” thus unbelieved.
No holy pyre this—death’s hissing chamber.
Two thousand years ago—a starlit manger,
weird Herod’s cries for vengeance on the meek,
the children slaughtered. Fear, when angels speak,
the prophesies of man. Do what you can,
not what you must, or should. They call you “good,”
dead eyes devoid of tears; how shall they speak
except in blankness? Fear, then, how they weep.
Escape the gentle clutching stickfolk. Creep
away in shame to retch and flush away
your vomit from their ashes. Learn to pray.
Published by Other Voices International, Promosaik (Germany), Inspirational Stories, Ulita (Russia), The Neovictorian/Cochlea and Trinacria
Keywords/Tags: Holocaust, god, prayer, Herod, angels, urn, ashes, crematorium, gas chamber, pyre