Ghosts on My Bookshelf

Written while thinking about the suicides of poet Anne Sexton and writer Primo Levi.

There are others, I'm sure,
aware of how they did it—
Anne and Primo—
but not I.
Ignorant of their methods,
their brutal, final blows,
I muse this peaceful morning
on their nagging despairs,
swirling around like the light brown coffee
under my chin.

Unique, her hopelessness, from his, of course,
but pain is pain.
Her poetry bleeds years of pain;
one wonders, is this art
Or auto-biographical screams from the cliff?

Primo emerges from death,
to life,
to death.
I know more of his nightmares.
I have heard the voices, hundreds,
of his fellow survivors,
those who came from death
(but to life! To life!)
My son, the doctor,
my granddaughter, ach, you should see her.

But you, Anne,
who could have done these things to you?
What monster mother? What evil man?
What demon of torture?
What self hate?
How friendless you look there, how pale.

I am surprised, Mr. Levi, that
thousands more have not followed you,
stabbed by the unconscionable news
that you and they themselves are not believed,
that there are men (men?) who walk this earth
learning nothing
while the soil under their ghoulish feet
rumbles with muted history.

One would think the streets would be full
of raving lunatics—
Jews, Gypsies, and other escapee "vermin"—
screaming, waving daggers,
threatening self-destruction
to end this torment, this up-at-night
relived madness of theirs.

Instead, over 50 years ago now
they changed clothes
grew hair
raced into a lover's arms
rushed to a midwife's hands
bundled the baby
and hopped ship
leaving that damn continent
trading nothing for
barely something,
making a future
from one dress sold
and a profit made
to buy another and soon—look—
we have enough for our own little shop.

My daughter, the CPA,
my son, the lawyer.
"Papa was a cattle dealer.
My Zayde was the shochet in our village.
Mama fed the poor
when they would come to our house, wanting.
Bubbe waved her dough-smooth hands
over candles on Shabbat.
Me, I died,
then washed up nearly alive
in America the beautiful,
in Eretz Yisrael, land of kings, priests, prophets,
bloodied warriors."

Anne? I don't know you very well.
But Primo, I think you didn't just want
to live,
or to be left alone,
but at least, at the very least,
to be believed.

© 1/11/97, Lois E. Olena

About Lois Olena :: Contact :: Links :: Bibliography :: Articles :: Holocaust Poetry :: Judaica Poetry :: Home Page

Website © Copyright 2004- Lois E. Olena & Keystrokes