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More on Israel

Most of the time I don't think about the fact that lots of people, people all over the world & also in my own city, would like me to be dead because I am Jewish. Even my father didn't think about it most of the time, I think, & he escaped the Nazis by the skin of his teeth, leaving Berlin in 1939. This week I do remember & then every paranoid thought I've had oppressses me. Every time I've had to explain that Jews are in danger ("whatever list the blacks/gays/Puerto Ricans/ are on, the Jews are on"). Every time I think about having had no grandparents, aunts, cousins. Every time I hear more about the pogrom this week in Israel. Every time I get white with rage at the equivocation about "chickens coming home to roost" & other disgusting responses to the murder of babies. What about Danny Pearl, I want to say. Pakistan has no Jews. Antisemitism without Jews. Imagine. 


This is a poem I wrote probably close to 30 years ago.


No Safety


All that hate me whisper together against me,

against me do they plot my death.


My old friend—

who I trusted—

who ate my bread—

has lifted up his heel against mine.

    Psalm 41




   I pick my friends according to whether they would hide me.

     Once you're betrayed it's too late to choose better.

Jews like to argue

who was worst:

The French? in 1940, five million

wrote poison-pen letters

denouncing individual Jews.

No, the Austrians—Hitler, Eichmann, Waldheim. All Austrians.

No, no, the Romanians

who outraged even the Germans

when they failed to bury the bodies of those they murdered.

The war lost, some Nazis jumped into stripes and yellow star—

the Russians shot them all the same.

Some Jews survived death camps and went home

and the Poles shot them

their neighbors, the Poles

their neighbors shot them.

Why bother to shoot the dead?



After Theresienstadt is it obscene to sing?

Unseemly to be alive

when such effort was made to stomp their bones?


Say "we"

we Jews     still here.

My dear little father ran

rather than give over his bad (gold-filled) teeth.

The Jews are historians—remember,

in every generation some rose

against us but we were saved. Who

saved us? Who saves me?

What happens to one

happens to all. If my aunt is killed, where are her bones?

      Hopeful and over-obedient,

      they and we, the scared and the slow,

      neglected political and military science and so were


The voice of history

divides the flame of fire.

We don't conquer we merely persevere.

How long will—    will the world look on?

Gnashing upon me with my teeth.

My babies, my children

it's so hard to raise

the dead.




I am a Jew.

I announce this

so I won't hear what I do hear when people don't guess

so I can't be a coward, so I can't deny anything.

No way out.

When I stay silent, my bones

wax old through my roaring

all the day long.

     . . . But my mother is English

doesn't that make me

half WASP shouldn't I be more

tactful? No one

wants to hear it why don't I

shut up? No one wants to hear it

and why should they

I wasn't there

they weren't there they

didn't do it.

The voice of history divides my flame from the fire.

The necromancers arouse themselves with the bones of the dead.

They warm the bones with their bodies

they insert the bones into their nostrils

they incite the bones to answer their questions

I shout at the bones until I am hoarse.

"It would have done no good to protest

they would only have turned on


  this way at least we got

a case of good wine out of it

a country house

when the old owners


decided to leave the country."

The Jews have only their history.

We must remember—but why should we live

for the dead?

The irony of history divides the flames of fire.

I am cursed with memory. My life is spent with grief

and my years with sighing.

My bones are consumed.

No safety.

That's all I'm trying to say.

Next time take me first,

I already know as much as I need to.




Why should I have

resentments? Didn't

my friend's husband say

he couldn't believe

I am a Jew

and didn't he mean

he likes me and he doesn't like


and aren't I flattered

to be told I'm not like


aren't I flattered to be

my own person not

the product of a people half as old as time?

One must forgive one's enemies

but not before they have been hanged.

          —Freud, quoting Heine




My friends think it strange

I carry three passports.

My money's in jewels, my bags are packed.

I pick the friends I pray

will hide me.

Once you're betrayed

it's too late. I am cursed

with memory

the flames divide me from my past.






[I am indebted to Susan Neiman & her book Slow Fire: Jewish Notes from Berlin for material in this work.]

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