--- For Josh Waletzsky1.
I am making chicken soup in the Vilna Ghetto.
You think it's easy? First
you've got to sneak in the chickens
feather by feather bone by bone and then the vegetables
root by root leaf by leaf next, the salt
past the Jewish police at the gate, and the Lithuanians,
the Nazis over their shoulders. You've got to be careful.
I keep the soup pot alive in the Vilna Ghetto
while all around buildings simmer
with meetings: young people, Zionists, leftists, rightists,
Communists, Bundists. My brother
tells me I'm on the wrong track.
He is sneaking guns into the Vilna Ghetto
part by part scrap by scrap and then the explosives.
This isn't easy he says, but it's necessary
Think of the working class, think of the revolution.
Think of the heroes at Warsaw, think of the pits at Ponar.
All we need here is a little solidarity
All we need now is one good uprising.
She is sneaking Jews out of the Vilna Ghetto
into the forest man by man woman by woman
(there are no children left, no Jewish children).
The leader, a Jew with a Russian name, Yurgis,
doesn't like it at all.
But what can he do
She is a hero, I guess. Here she is on TV
on the documentary my daughter watches.
Me? I was somewhat nearby I was making soup in the forest
for the Partisans, the peasants, the Jews, the Russians
(I left my brother, he left me, back in the ghetto )
Here, we trapped some rabbits, dug up a few wild scallions
Yadwiga found us some mushrooms.
(They looked poisonous, but tasted like pine trees.)
I am warming up soup in Brooklyn,
in Brighton Beach, down by the worn-out ocean
Its tomato-egg-drop soup from the Chinese take-out
around the corner, next to the Russian deli
(where the man hums rock n' roll, counts change in Yiddish)
Beside me, my daughter watches the TV program
I watch the tears break out on her face like a rash.
Why is she crying? What can she know of that time
Me, all my tears are locked up behind my eyes
rusted like all the words in the mother language I don't even dream in now
Me, I don't cry.
Me, I survive and survive.
How I survive! I've outlasted Vilna and Ponar
the meetings the sewer the forest
the Judenrat and my family
(except for this one, who came later).
My brother stares at us suddenly out of the screen
out of that photograph I always hated.
He's 20, he's serious, his ears are too big
I can't look. I turn my back. I lower the flame
under the saucepan, the soup shouldn't burn.
You think it's easy to concentrate on details?
Details, let me tell you, keep you alive.
Details, I thank God for them.
My daughter looks ugly and old, her face all muddy
They've got someone else on there now, another story.
I could tell stories too, but I never talked much.
He talked all the time. He scattered his words like salt.
Words, he said, words are important, words can change things.
He sneaked his words in past the guards, he whispered, he
shouted. Think of the Jewish people, he said and he disappeared.
(And the Nazi troop train blew up, and they blamed the Russians.)
She's crying harder, my daughter; sobs choke in her throat like fishbones.
"Mama," she says, "Mama, why didn't you tell me?"
I say "What's to tell? Have some soup."--- From Broken Land
Poems of Brooklyn
Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Michael Tyrell, Editors
(New York University Press)