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
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
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
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
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
lighting the dark shores of 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
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.
There is a song in the universe
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.
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
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,
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,
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,
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,
you may want to do
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