Tag Archives: poetry

Forefathers

by Janet R. Kirchheimer (New York, NY)

I tell my father that I’m working on a new poem.
I got into the poem, but can’t seem to find a way out.
“Kind of like a fart in your pants,” he says.
And I realize that my poetic forefathers were probably not
William Shakespeare and Robert Frost, but more likely
Milton Berle and Henny Youngman.

I ask him if there were any poets in our family, and he tells me
Tante Channele was a poet but nobody liked her, which doesn’t
make me feel any better.

A hairy woodpecker, with the red mark of a male on its neck,
comes to our birdfeeder today.
“Look at how bright, how clean his colors are,” my father says.
“He looks like he’s just been painted.”
And I know exactly who my poetic forefather is.

Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us, poems about her family and the Holocaust.  Her recent work has appeared in The Poet’s Quest for God and is forthcoming in Forgotten Women.  Janet is currently producing AFTER, a cinematic film about Holocaust poetry.  https://www.facebook.com/AfterAPoetryFilm/

This poem is reprinted from Mima’amakim with the kind permission of the author.

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, poetry

Not My Father’s Jewish Museum

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

 

I am not prepared for the profusion

of colors and thought that are persuasive

here in the Jewish Museum of New York,

expecting gray shadows of smoke rising,

of twisted corpses and mournful dirges.

Look! There is a hanging chandelier

blinking on and off at irregular times,

as if one language doesn’t work,

another will, in this case in Morse Code.

All languages, sadly, are an approximation

of the truth, an attempt to get to the core

of what it means to be Jewish.

I am unsure of what that is,

in any language, art, script, whatever.

I see artists trying to answer that very same question

in forms more varied than my own imagination.

The medium differs, the search continues.

Imagine a room full of stuffed animals – a Bear-mitzvah!

I may not know exactly who I am,

but the comfort here in this museum

reminds me I am not alone in my quest.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Yahrzeit

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

In my changing neighborhood
the Asian dollar store has replaced
the old Woolworth five-and-dime.
I go in and ask for a Yahrzeit candle.
The owner quizzically looks at me.
“A memorial candle,” I explain.
He finds one on the back shelf.
It’s the anniversary of my father’s death,
and I have bought the candle to say Kaddish.
Is one candle enough to honor
the man who helped raise me?
Pluses and minuses, Dad, if you must know.
I have trouble lighting the wick;
I struggle over the Hebrew words.
Shouldn’t there be more
in the way of ritual and remembrance?
Light a candle, just one candle, they say.
As I stand over the flame,
I am still debating whether one candle
is wholly insufficient or entirely too much.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Release from Dachau

by Janet R. Kirchheimer (New York, NY)

“I had a dream last night,” my father tells me.
He dreamed the kapos woke him up at four o’clock
in the morning, on Friday, December 23, 1938,
made him strip out of his uniform, made him
wait in line for an SS doctor to examine him

for bruises and frostbite, made him listen to speeches
by the SS warning him to get out of Germany and never
return. They warned him if he didn’t, he’d be sent back to Dachau
and never leave. He dreamed he was assigned a place
in another line, waited to return his uniform and get his own clothes,
shoes and coat, and that the SS drove him to an area about four miles
from the Munich train station, then made him march the rest of the way.

The sky was so black, he couldn’t see the man who gave him a ticket.
It took twelve hours, and he changed trains twice. He had no money,
no food.
The train arrived on Shabbos morning, and he didn’t want to see
another person’s face and took the back way home through the fields,
crossing eight railroad tracks, careful not to get caught

in the track switches. His father was the first person to see him
as he opened the shutters he closed each night so no one could throw
rocks into the house. He went through the front gate into the house,
saw his mother had baked challahs, and ate an entire one. He went to sleep
at eleven o’clock in the morning and slept until the next day.

“That’s exactly how it happened,” my father tells me. “That’s how I
got home.
Can you believe I still dream about it sixty years later?”

Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us, poems about her family and the Holocaust.  Her recent work has appeared in The Poets Quest for God and is forthcoming in Forgotten Women.  Janet is currently producing AFTER, a cinematic film about Holocaust poetry.  https://www.facebook.com/AfterAPoetryFilm/

 

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Sabbath Candles

By Rick Black (Arlington, VA)

I tell myself these are candles of joy.
Of peacefulness, quiet and repose.
Of blessings, rejoicing
and song.

Usually I light yahrzeit candles,
memorial candles, Yom HaShoah candles.
And they rekindle memories
of those I have lost.

But tonight I light
the wicks of Sabbath candles.
The scent of their smoke lingers—
the smoke itself, too.

I recall my mother,
lighting candles years ago—
closing her eyes to usher in
the angels of peace,

the living and the dead.
Indeed, how many years is it?
The Sabbath candles alit
and their glow.

Rick Black is a prize-winning poet and book artist. To read a few poems from his award-winning collection, “Star of David,” please visit http://www.turtlelightpress.com/products/star-of-david/  Currently, he is at work on a limited edition artist book of Yehuda Amichai poems entitled, “The Amichai Windows.” You can learn more about it at his blog, www.amichaiwindows.com.

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The Search for Chometz

by Richard Epstein (Washington, DC)

He gave me a saucer containing eleven, neatly cut
pieces of bread:  each about a quarter-inch square.  I placed one
on the edge of the washing machine in the first floor
powder room, the kitchen counter, the dining room table,
the leather-topped lamp table in the living room,
and on the corner of each dresser in the upstairs bedrooms.

He waited downstairs.  When I came back to the kitchen,
he unwrapped a cloth covering a wooden spoon,
the white-feathered wing of a chicken, and a Shabbos candle.
The search for the chometz was about to begin.

I led the way to each piece of bread by candlelight, my hand
cupped in front of the flickering flame as we walked up
the darkened wooden stairway.  Melting wax dripped
onto my hand as I watched our shadows high on the wall.

Dad gently nudged each morsel of bread onto the spoon,
then brushed twice with short sweeping strokes
of a chicken wing.  He cradled the spoon on his forearm
as if it were a fragile doll and wrapped it within
the cloth before leaving each room.

Dad followed me down the stairs and back into the kitchen.
He whispered a prayer and blew long and slow
across the candle flame.

All things are done with prayer,  he said.  The candle tried
desperately to hold to its light. Like hoarded silver,
he wrapped the wooden spoon and bound it tightly with twine.

It is done.

Richard Epstein lives in the Washington DC area and is active in the Warrior Poets sponsored by Walter Reed Medical Center, the Veterans Writing Project and he hosts an open mic venue for veterans and friends of veterans on the National Mall.

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The Language of Poetry and Cinema Meets the Language of Grant Writing

by Janet R. Kirchheimer (New York, NY)

Writer and child survivor Aharon Appelfeld stated, “After the death of the last witnesses, the remembrance of the Holocaust must not be entrusted to historians alone. Now comes the hour of artistic creation.” I am producing BE•HOLD, a cinematic performance film that explores poetry written about the Holocaust, with director Richard Kroehling. The film showcases poetry written by survivors, their descendants and modern poets, both Jews and non-Jews, grappling with the Shoah and its aftereffects. The poems are presented by poets, survivors, actors and people from all walks of life, along with music and interviews, to create a deep well of voices responding to evil.

My parents were born in Germany. In 1936, my mother was six years old when she was backed up against a wall at school, and kids threw rocks at her because she refused to say “Heil Hitler.” Her parents got her out to a Jewish girls’ orphanage in Amsterdam, the Israelitisch Meijesweishaus. There were one hundred and four girls. Four survived. My mother came to America with her parents and an older sister. When my father was sixteen, he was arrested on Kristallnacht (two days of rioting sanctioned by the Nazi government on November 9 and 10, 1938) and sent to Dachau. My father’s parents, his older sister and younger brother were murdered in Auschwitz. My parents lost over ninety-five percent of their extended families in concentration camps. I want to make BE•HOLD to honor my family, those who survived and those who did not, and to honor all the murdered, all the survivors, their descendants and those who fought against the Nazis.

The team making BE•HOLD is Richard Kroehling, a two-time Emmy Award winning director who filmed “A. Einstein: How I See the World” with William Hurt for PBS, and Lisa Rinzler, a multi-award winning cinematographer who has worked with Wim Wenders and Martin Scorcese. I met Richard at a conference less than three months after my father died, and we discussed our mutual love of poetry. Two weeks later, we decided to make a film. We talked for almost a year about BE•HOLD, discussing our vision for it, poems and poets we wished to film and ways to raise funds. I was observing the traditional Jewish year of mourning for my father, and many times this film felt as if it were a gift from him. It gave me a goal, something to focus on.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti said, “Poetry is the shortest distance between two humans.” Richard and I are driven by the possibilities of expanding the limits of what is purely literary and purely visual, and we believe that the language of poetry and the language of cinema can be brought together for profound and powerful results. We watched them collide and were there to capture on film what happened. During each filming, a poetic moment took over and the results were different than what we had planned for and always more than we expected.

Grant writing is new for me, and I am trying to wrap my head around the idea of quantifying art. I’m still not sure I know what funders are asking for after writing grant proposals this past year. I understand that funders need to know where their money is going and that a project they fund will be a success. It’s different than creative writing. In a poem, if I know where I’m going, know everything I want to say, there’s nothing left to discover or surprise me in my writing. This is what I’d like to do: meet with a potential funder and say, “I can’t give you a pitch. I’m not a fundraiser. I’m a poet, teacher and filmmaker, and here’s why I’m passionate about BE•HOLD and why the film matters.”

On grant applications, I complete sections such as: log line, short and long description of the film, summary of content and objectives, narrative treatment, timeline, director’s vision, then upload a producer, director and cinematographer bio and filmography, upload the progress reel, fill out the budget form, list monies raised, funding sources and describe marketing and distribution plans. The next question asks what kind of metrics will be used to show that the film is a success. I understand why most of my artist friends don’t apply for grants.

Trying to make a film that is doing something new is difficult. There are so many people applying for grants from the few organizations that give them to filmmakers. But, I continue to fill out proposals and raise funds. Richard and I believe in BE•HOLD and that it offers a new approach to Holocaust remembrance. We also believe that the film imparts the ongoing relevance of the Shoah: that the past is not simply in the past, but rather a vital part of the present and future.

Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us (2007).  She is currently producing BE•HOLD, a cinematic poetry performance filmhttps://www.facebook.com/BeholdAPerformanceFilm.  Her work has appeared in journals and on line in such publications as Atlanta Review, Limestone, Connecticut Review, Lilith, Natural Bridge and on beliefnet.com.  She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and received Honorable Mention in the String Poet Prize 2014. 

This essay is reprinted here with the kind permission of  The Best American Poetry Blog http://thebestamericanpoetry.typepad.com/the_best_american_poetry/ where it first appeared.  

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Filed under American Jewry, European Jewry, German Jewry, Jewish identity, poetry