Read more about Chosen Traumas and Chosen Glories

The Holocaust

by Tammuz Frankel

Tammuz (in Sumerian, Dumuzi)—god of fertility,
tracing his spindly fingers along the cracks and spaces
that like lightning radiate between the ferns,
he gets lost listening
to the far off cry of the sirens,
his mother, Ishtar, pulls him close
to the gentle curve of her bosom
which hums, oscillating
between the sounds of a million mosquitoes
crackling as they soar around fluorescent lights,
and the hoopoe bird as it softly garbles
to invite the sun as it slides between
the holes in the ozone
the alarm clock rings and you wake up swimming through striped sheets and pools of perspiration.

Savtah (Hebrew for grandmother)—has white hair
that frames her face
(I notice it smells like dust
as I trace my spindly fingers
along the maps of flesh
that hang upon her brit-
tle bones, as an
overcoat lies
limp and heavy
atop a coat hanger).
Deftly thumbing through
her photo album,
Savtah’s eyes
(lodged at
the back of
her skull)
adroitly scan
the pages.
you sit, wondering what she makes of the fleeting colors that flash across her dark, ochre eyes
she stops
Zakhar, she whispers
to a colorless image of a man.

Judaeus (what Romans called Jews)—
sitting in the back of Latin
the gentle rustle of textbooks becomes
the sound of turning leaves
you drift off thinking of all of the books you started but never finished.

“From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in one of the deadliest genocides in history, which was part of a broader aggregate of acts of oppression and killings of various ethnic and political groups in Europe by the Nazi regime.”
in fourth grade in the school cafeteria a fight broke out between a Jew and a German and you sat perplexed.
“The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages, culminating in what Nazis termed the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (die Endlösung der Judenfrage), an agenda to exterminate Jews in Europe.”
in fifth grade at a japanese restaurant you asked your parents what the holocaust was and your father choked on air and wheezed out six million lives.
“By the end of 1942, victims were being regularly transported by freight trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, most were systematically killed in gas chambers.”
in sixth grade you read nothing but books about the holocaust, from spiegelman to wiesel, every night you go to bed and lie awake remembering.
“Jewish armed resistance was limited.”
what did gregor samsa feel when he woke up as a monstrous vermin?

Alongside walls eaten by bullets
my skin bubbled and blistered,
as I marched forward, led by Savtah
our feet gently scraped across
the large limestone squares
which now slowly baked
in the fluorescent sun. A guide
hollered in Hebrew,
his voice drifting in the wind
like a bottle on the Mediterranean
We caught the words
Jesus, Shoah, and Adonai
just as they floated away.
I used my nail to scrape the heavy film
of grime that lay atop my forehead.
you thought Brooklyn summer was bad but august in Israel is one hell of a month.
When the doors of the bus finally
open we noticed a dingy icebox
towards the front, with
a fan blowing a cool breeze out and
throughout the bus,
it kissed my harissa-red nose
and whispered secrets into my ears.
Doors close and I sat down
as the bus engines hummed and for once
the hot plastic bag had been lifted,
we sighed,
breaths intermingling with the plasticky air.
I rest my head on Savtah, and I know this is where I belong.
through the fogged glass you make out what at first you think must be a mirage—a wall, a large, grey wall in the distance, a harsh break from the perfect blue of the sky, a hot, concrete rupture, the music stops and the fantasy shatters.

Citation note: This essay quotes

Commentary by Bernice Arricale

One of the most insidious effects of racism is that the target of the racism (almost always a member of a minority group) often internalizes the belief that they are somehow inferior, wrongly made and deserving of hatred; monstrous, like Gregor Samsa. In this fierce and moving poem a young dreamer, tortured by history, seems to find refuge in the cleansing fire of an Israeli summer until the illusion is shattered by the reality of the wall he sees. The question is, what is possible now for this young person? How can he find a way to love the world?