A child alone in a foreign land
never is solaced, but speaks at long years'
intervals, a ventriloquism of quiet rage,
in a woman's voice at a civilized table.
Part of this truth we have heard before
but the unraveling of pain like the neuron's path
is bristly and indirect, sparking at the undiscerned.
No old-testament god can be called on to explain
the gothic weight, the stone cold of her pain;
the woman knows how real are the helmeted folk,
the butchers who dreamed the grand dream.
Vivid in polished memory is the street
where she and her sister walked, where heils
rained iron around their thin forms; fear thrust
up their own arms, yet flailed the soldiers' fists.
There the fatal eroding blow which in England
claimed her sister's blood-bound mind;
she now alone in England, her escape none at all.
Your parents, too, died in the war, the question
so politely purged of scaly truth.
Auschwitz slithers on clawed feet into darkness
as a child's memory stops before silent walls
of an ungraved earth, where millions of cries
have become one miming cry which is her own,
where she is father, mother, all the earth.
I have brought lemon bread to my hostess.
That afternoon I had listened to a physician-poet
who tried to heal ancestral memory of slavery
with poems of black light and hope and old photographs
of the long dead. He thought memory of pain survived
could awaken purpose in youth who had no hope.
From him at the artistic celebration I had bought
a book of verse: from his wife I bought the bread.
We eat the lemon bread as my hostess speaks.
We eat to punish the British fosterer who calls her dirty.
We eat to stop the past from where her mother was taken
into the dark place where her father had disappeared,
the burning dark felt in the recesses of numbered records.
We eat to push away the gargoyle who walks
in goose step against her heels, but his shadow is near.
We eat to stop our ears against the millions
of shackled children stumbling in the light,
a sound like human breath gasping for air.
Our hostess cuts another piece for her husband
who loves the richness of the lemon bread.
His voice pulls us politely back from pain.
We all speak of the bread in praise
for its tart sweetness. We restore the ordinary.
We all eat silently as if we were under a shawl.
We eat of the lemon bread; we eat her grief,
unable to solace the raging child, but in our nodding
silence to affirm her unending pain. We eat
to extend our human lives.