Excerpt from Gods of Water and Air - for Sara R.

On Yom Kippur, in honor of my dear friend Sara, who as a teenager fought in the forests of Eastern Europe. On a day of atonement, I look up to my friend's courage and hope to find more of it within myself this year.

Chewing on 'Jew'

When I go, it will be with Chagall’s angel,
the one that hangs over the couch,
floating on teardrop wings.
Her candelabra keeps away
the midnight forest
that lives behind my eye,
that deep shade
the sun can never erase.

No one asks, but they whisper
of my wartime because of my age
and German accent: was it a camp
or an attic? Even my children don’t ask
about my teenage of fire and defiance.
I hope they never have to know
how to sleep on the pine dirt
or stretch a soup with weeds
while hiding in the trees’ dank wells.

But then they made a movie
about Jewish freedom fighters.
I had to speak. I showed the clippings
to my neighbor. Nice girl.
I didn’t even know she was Jewish.
I told her they took me
to the premiere because of what I did
with the matches, how they wouldn’t light
the fuses on the tracks. Run! Run!
Rain damped their words and the wet matches
shook in my hands, but I stayed. At thirteen.

I’m proud of festooning the woods
with roses of fire and flesh.
To have lit the chaos candles.
Even if they took me too. Not so much
to live for: twilight-to-dawn hunger,
hugging the dark for a pillow.
Chewing on the word Jew
and how it now meant animal.

Why should I have cared
if the explosion ripped me
into strips and mingled them
with Nazi shreds?
I had to grow up fast,
to resist the commander’s hand
on my breast. Was that why they left me
feverish on the ground? Or just
that they had to move fast.

A miracle, I did not die.
Now a grandmother,
I’m still strong as a rose
singing into the California sun.
When we hug, we light up
like the angel’s candlestick
of dynamite that flares
and fights the dark.

for Sara Rosnow