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The second poetry section of C.20 is proud to present to you the work of four poets, Sukrita Paul Kumar, Leon Cohen, Martin Herskovitz and Tom Hadani Nave. Though differing in almost every stylistic and content aspect, these poets deal with the universal issues of space and time and the on-going human quest for reconciliation with their terms of existence.

Sukrita Paul Kumar

Two pagoda poems

(Inspired by poems hanging over and around the master pagoda near Hanoi, Vietnam)


nine times over

the word nothingness

emerges again

and yet again

in the twenty-word poem

by the master monk

the dragon, they say,

descends into the sea

searching for meaning

and spewing jewels

jewels that become rocks

with stalactites piercing into

bellies of rocks

columns of light rise

dressed in stunning colours

devils dancing

in step with gods

all in all,

adding to nothingness

and making meaning


what is real?

image of the bird

fluttering in the sky

or the one still

in the gushing river

the wavy moon

in the water

or the one above

that is steady



Out of the Box

That this world has worlds

beyond the stars

I did not know

The blue of the skies I had never pierced

Nor trekked on the purple rocks above

the tree-line

Never had I dived into the orphan’s eyes

To feel the grains of sand there

To feel her loveless childhood

Where was the scent that led to the

valley of flowers

Why did I not hear the silence

resounding in the hollow of the shell

Yet, I thought I had told and

heard them all

-the stories of pain and pleasure

of thirst and desire-

Till you came out to me, my friend

You told it all, the story of your love

Of its revelation,

First and foremost

You found the courage to tell it

to your own self

With that nervous glint of conviction

You told it all

The shiver of brutal resolute

mixed with fear

You a woman

in love

with another woman

Crossing the Line of Control

Unlocking the prisons of thought

Like birds flying across sealed borders

Risking prosecution and even life

Bits of truth buried

in the graveyard of words

rose as if from the vaults

in the bottom of the sea

like fireflies

lighting the dark shores of life.

New Life

Nine months gone

She went into the

Trance of labour

on the banks

In Port Blair

Waves of razor pains

Rose from the centre,

Tearing the earth apart

Sucking in

Frolicking humanity

With the first cry

of the baby.

They named her


A noted poet and critic, Sukrita Paul Kumar (born in Kenya) has published several collections of poems and many critical books; her most recent collections of poems are Country Drive and Dream Catcher. An invited poet at the International Writing Programme (Iowa, USA) and a poet-in-residence in Hong Kong, she is a former Fellow of the IIAS, Shimla. A recipient of many fellowships and residencies, she held the Aruna Asaf Ali Chair at the University of Delhi, till recently. She is also a well-known translator and has held exhibitions of her paintings.

Leon Cohen


There is a song in the universe

about you

and it goes like this…

a leaf is picked up by the wind

on an autumnal afternoon

the light is slowly turning in

and the wind slumbers

some frost-bitten spiders

are lifting their airy legs

and get down to work

to create their delicate pattern

that tomorrow will be frozen into eternity

or for a day or so

whichever comes first.

Leon Cohen (1901-1942) was born in Salonica and emigrated to Paris in 1926, where he worked as an accountant. He married and had two children and was living happily in France, though longing to be reunited with his relatives in Greece. In 1942, he was seized with his family, as well as most Parisian Jews, and sent to his death in Auschwitz. These poems were found in a box of letters many years later by a distant relative.

Matin Herskovitz

Curses and Blessings

At the bus stop he pointed at me in recognition

But I knew him not.

Undaunted he came and shook my hand, his silver-framed glasses askew.

“Let me finish my say then you can speak,” he said

“May God bless you three blessings

That you join in the building of the third Temple,

That you live to see your children and grandchildren under the wedding canopy

That all your enemies be vanquished.

I am mentally ill,

Please give me some money so I can go to Yehezkel’s grocery

And buy some food.”

Which I did.

Some would dismiss this incident but I have not.

You see, my mother stood on the icy muddied ground of Auschwitz,

Whose cursed soil petrified generations of lives

And I like to think that now God sends his peculiar messengers to bless me,

And resuscitate my soul.


I went to say goodbye to my parents

when they left the country.

My mother was busy the entire visit

packing up the leftovers

so I hardly had a chance to say goodbye.

“Hurry home before the dairy products spoil “

was the last thing she said as she closed the door.

I stood in the parking lot

laden with Tupperware

feeling alone.

The next day I sat hunched over her reheated soup,

my hands encircled the bowl,

warming my fingers,

steam rising about my face,

as I waited for the soup to cool.

It has taken too much of a lifetime

to learn to live in a family

where you eat soup

instead of saying goodbye.


In the face of the ineffable

There can be no words, they say,

Only silence.

But my life has been measured by decades of silence,

Not mere kilometers.

So the crunch of flagstones,

The swirl of winds,

Even the tears

are no stead.

In Auschwitz silence will not suffice.

For when words return,

they return as they were,

Like seeds scattered on the frozen ground.

But if a voice can rise from the desolation,

To parse therewith a syntax of the pain.

Then words entombed shall resurgent flow

Words whose tears may heal the soul again


When I asked about her grandfather,

My mother said he gave his grandchildren mints,

Then silence.

Not if the mints were azure blue or white,

Not the peppery scent of their breaths,

Not of the toddler’s cries because he would not get,

Just mints.

It is left for me to imagine my uncles crunching impatiently

the hard candy when they tired of letting it dissolve

as I would, a generation on.



My cousin Haim Stern returned to Serednye after the war

Took the key from the neighbor

To return shortly, a shoebox under his arm

And he strode toward the tree grove.

The bonfire in the grove burnt the photographs well

as he stood over the curling pictures, prodding them deeper into the flames

the nitrate smoke burnt his eyes.

He sat in the clearing till the embers died down, then freed, left for America

his spare set of shoes now in the shoebox.


My father has put away the pictures from before the war and he can’t find them.

But I think that he put away the pictures so he won’t find them.

What good are those pictures, he says, they were all blurry

and in the posed pictures they all look like statues

Better we should take pictures of our wonderful grandchildren, not blurry and in color.

Let’s finish the roll and in an hour we’ll have new pictures. Much better


I don’t have any pictures of my uncles who died in Auschwitz

not that it would help much.

My Uncle Meshulam died when he was 4 years old.

I would feel pretty silly holding a picture of a four year old

and saying this is my uncle.

It is hard for me to imagine that I had a family at all.

I’m not a god that can create a family out of motes of dust.


Whenever I would ask about the Holocaust my parents changed the subject saying

“You have to put the past behind if you want to go forward”

After 45 years of all sorts of directions, I am beginning to doubt their words.

Martin Herskovitz was born in the United States in 1955 to parents from Czechoslovakia, his mother a Holocaust survivor. Martin began a Second-generation activity in 2000 as part of a listserv of the Second generation, in which he began to publish poetry about his experience as a child of a Holocaust survivor. Among other things, his poems were published in Midstream and Maggid. In addition, on the basis of his poems, he prepared a lecture on the subject of “Poetry and Second generation”, which he presented at the University of Illinois, Lesley University in Israel and at the annual educators conference at Yad Vashem.

Tom Hadani Nave


Wait for me

On one of the Mekong islands,

It’s a matter of a day or so

Before I arrive.


Don’t do a thing

Or do a thing,

That later

you may want to do

with me.

Not to Crash the Car

The skies are clasped into a fist.

The house is as quiet

As the interior of a car

Passing under the bridge

In a storm.

I walk in the house,

The baby is in my arms –

A passenger, trusting

The driver not to

crash the car.

He Puts His Palm

In his asleep,

He puts his palm over my heart.

Chest hair bursts

Through my T-shirt and

Entangles around his fingers.

Love is kept inside him

Waiting to erupt, like teeth

Out of gums.

Love is kept inside me –

I kiss his forehead,

Like a bead

Touches a bead

In a rosary.

Tom Hadani Nave, born in 1979, lives in Israel, and has published two books of poetry. Writing his PhD in the program for ‘Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis’, in Bar Ilan University

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