Myra Sklarew

 

IT IS EVENING IN JERUSALEM

The mountains rise up on their stones
Isaiah walks again in his vineyard

The lost names scattered over
the Mount of Olives are returning

The Judean hills lean nearer the sound
of the wind that sings in the chalil

A child crosses the border of sleep to pick flowers
A soldier carries her gently back

Amir and his tractor are plowing the slopes of the sky
The women embroider stars into the sash of darkness

The right arm has drawn
close again to the left

 

IF THE DEAD RETURN TO US

If the dead return to us
they will come in
to our wounded houses as if
they know the way.
They will carry a flock of stone
birds the dark seeds
of winter still
in their beaks, their jagged
flight.
...........If you come
on the third night of the war
you will bring the song
of your last day on earth, you will wear
your pain carefully so we do not
recognize it for what it is.
The others will ask: Has he returned?
Has he come to live
among us again?
...........If you come into my house,
I will open my body to you, I will touch
you the way one snow
crystal falls
to another, I will touch
you carefully so as not to hurt
you anymore. And we will be
together like the husband and wife
in the old woman's painting: the sky
is blue, there are lakes
and mountains. Only here can the two
meet again.
.............I don't know what
happens next--if she tells him
she stood in the dark
places like the dead or if
she moves her hands
over his body, closing
her eyes that she might read him before
she is chased off
by the wind,
............before she forgets
this topography. I don't know
if this is the place
where he says: I have always
loved you. Or if he could not bear
even the weight of her fingers.
Or if in the morning
like the moon
she could no longer find
him in the white sky.

 

 

1941

You decide to crawl out
from the haystack
where you are hiding.

To come up for air. Even
the lowliest fish
of the sea is allowed to pull

the residue of air
into its blood. For some
it is too late--the pitchfork

of the farmer pushed in and
in. But you scramble
to the top of a chimney

pot where two storks
have made their immense
nest. You can be seen in the flat

landscape. You take no trouble
to conceal yourself.
This is before the farmer

raises his rifle, before your
expulsion from this world
into the next. You warm yourself

among the storks. Prophet
among birds, your world ajar,
you read the sun trying

to go down, the moon
with its hem caught
on the horizon. For

a moment, in perfect stasis,
high on your absurd perch
you are still breathing.

 

AT THE SYRIAN BORDER

Walking between two mine fields
I pretend I am a tourist here: What trees,
I say. What mountains. I mouth
slogans bitter as a salt sea.

The wind feeds on the basalt rock.
Under every eucalyptus there is
the yawning shadow of a bunker. My people
is an armed camp.

I remember a boy who made a bridge
of his body for the others to climb across.
They turned him into air and fire and earth.
And here is the place where a father

let his child down a knotted sheet
like Jacob, only not going up.
One child by one child down the ladder
of knots and when he himself climbed

down for the last time he found each one
murdered. O Jacob let us put away
our strange gods. My people is an armed
camp. Her sons wear old faces.

 

POEM OF THE MOTHER

The heart goes out ahead
scouting for him
while I stay at home
keeping the fire,
holding the house down
around myself
like a skirt from the high wind.

The boy does not know
how my eye strains to make out
his small animal shape
swimming hard across the future
nor that I have strengthened myself
like the wood side of this house
for his benefit.

I stay still
so he can rail against me.
I stay at the fixed center of things
like a jar on its shelf
or the clock on the mantel
so when his time comes
he can leave me.


 

Myra Sklarew, former president of the artist's community Yaddo, is professor of literature at American University. She has published six collections of poetry, three chapbooks, a collection of short fiction and a book of essays. She is currently at work on a nonfiction study, Holocaust and the Construction of Memory. Her poetry has been recorded for the Library of Congress's Archive of Poetry and Literature.

Published in Volume 5, Number 1, Winter 2004.

 

To read more by this author:
Sklarew on May Miller: Memorial Issue
Myra Sklarew: Whitman Issue

Sklarew on Leon-Gontran Damas: Forebears Issue