Dee Sunshine

A Burnt Offering

27th January 1995:

The 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

1.

You covered up the mirrors,

not wanting to see the radiance dissipating:

The sexless city sucking you in,

erasing your face.

Without reflection

we clutched at each other:

clinging together like little children.

We clung together

till gravity pulled us apart.

* * *

Junked out on television

we watched the world disintegrating

in raptures of violent dreams:

each dreamer being so much less

than the sum of the parts;

each dream, a fragment

deconstructed from the whole.

* * *

The sirens and screams

that shredded the night’s silence

were a forewarning

of the worst that would come.

We could sense the beast’s breath

bubbling under the skin of the earth.

* * *

Fucking to the hot dark rhythms of the night

we allowed ourselves the luxury of entropy,

the muted ecstasy of mutual extinction:

it wasn’t love, but its fire kept us warm.

* * *

In sleep we would lose ourselves,

let loose shadowy spectres -

abominations that slithered

through the ragged gashes

in the veneer of our sanity;

trailing a terrible afterbirth,

foetid and reeking of fear.

Our dreams gave birth to

walled in ghettoes,

bloody towers,

children without eyes,

animal corpses,

beggars, mobs,

freight trains…

armies of the dead.

* * *

Waking to the lightless morning:

lost to each other, lost to the detritus

of fear filled dreams,

we would shiver, cling together

and fill each other’s ears

with the hot blood

of promised tomorrows.

2.

In holding together and clutching

we imagined ourselves to be whole -

sublimated in a spurious spirituality,

elevated above the chaos of spiky rooftops

and darkly smoking chimneys.

But the sky blew through our every construct,

insinuating a secret hunger, infecting us

with the knowledge of our fragility.

We were held together by mere fragments -

broken pieces that could never be anything more

than broken pieces.

3.

Sometimes, standing skeletal

in the rusted metal wind,

with clouds clearing from frosted skies,

a blur of stars dazzling our eyes,

we would be surprised

by something bigger than love.

Momentarily the futility would fall away

and we’d taste that ineffable no-thing

with an undefined inner sense.

Transcending the linear,

we would cross the border

without passports or maps.

4.

The night before you left

we tore the clothes from each other

and pulled our loins together:

it was a last frantic attempt at connection

before our final separation.

In the deliberate darkness -

not wanting to see

what we’d lost in each other -

we thrashed to an angry climax.

You were a Nazi storm trooper

and I, a sub-human Jew.

5.

Last night I sat shivering at my desk

watching the moon track across the sky

listening to screech owls

yammering in the distance,

the wind muttering to the trees,

the silence from my unsleeping bed.

Tonight I cannot pretend I’ll sleep.

In the double-glazed safety of suburbia

I cannot excuse this agitation:

these solid buildings nurse the spirit

to slumbering, willing forgetfulness.

But I cannot forget you:

your post-war, housing scheme passions

assail me from across the great divide,

shaking me to my very foundations.

Your ice blue eyes

are watching me as I squirm -

you torturer, you.

I miss you!

I am at a loss out here,

on the periphery of prosperity

with this job, this house,

this security:

I miss our days and nights

of unemployed reckless penury.

I miss the neon emptiness,

the dirty knickers,

the one bar electric fire,

the stinking fridge,

the anonymous screams

in the death still night,

the nightmares

and our dreams

of a greener, cleaner place.

6.

My heart is acrid as this ashtray,

hard as blown glass.

There is no poem to our love:

I remember only

the murmuring of your body against mine

in abstract -

one sideways blow

and the image is cracked.

I need your hands

to pull me out

from this stagnant murk:

I need your Teutonic no-nonsense

To wipe away this Semitic self-pity.

7.

Tonight I am alone,

with no hand to guide me.

Under my feet

the world is trembling,

mountains are moving

to Mohammed’s muezzin call.

Soon the infidel,

will be routed out,

cut down:

devoured in ash and flame.

8.

A postcard from Japan,

a picture of gleaming, erect Osaka -

skyscrapers piercing

a Hiroshima red, sunset sky.

On the back it reads,

I am alive and well,

if a little shaken.

My brave, adventuring friend,

but a butterfly’s kiss from Kobe:

she says, don’t worry,

but I do.

Drunk on my father’s brew

of cynicism and anxiety,

I watch the storm clouds gathering,

drawing near

and I’m filled full

of wretched fear.

These islands, he once mused,

are but wretched specks

in a vast wilderness;

and these oceans,

just a dribble of sweat

rolling down the buttock cleft

of an indifferent deity.

My father knew

the heart of his father God

even before his bar mitzvah day:

he was but ten

when the news filtered through

from Poland and Germany.

9.

The struggle of people against power

Is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Milan Kundera

Sleepless,

these flickering images of newsreel

strobe blue in the late night corners

of this hallucinated, tangled room:

random, uncollated images

of collateral damage;

names colliding

in a jangling discordant poetry

Angola, Sarajevo, Eritrea,

East Timor, Cambodia,

Haiti, Soweto, Kuwait…

an endless litany of forgotten places

like the dispassionate whisper

of a distant, voiceless God.

Here, great Jehovah,

are the bits of a child

who stood on a land mine.

Here is the skull

of a prisoner

who had nothing to confess.

Here are the bodies

of women and children

who were queuing

at the well for water.

Here, there and everywhere

uncountable numbers,

unfathomable numbers:

I would tattoo them

on your loving arms,

Dear God.

10.

My great aunt – my grandmother’s elder sister -

is over fifty years dead:

no exact record exists,

but somewhere in Hamburg or Hanover

her skin still shades the harsh light of a naked bulb.

Perhaps, that is all that remains of her.

The books that were bound

by the glue made from her pulverised bones

have long since been read and discarded;

and the soap made from her body fat

was used up

scrubbing clean

the blackened faces

of Aryan coal miners.

11.

I learned the necessity of lies early on:

picking up a penny in the playground

there was a momentary flush of joy,

but it was soured by classmates

who gathered round, taunting me,

calling me – a fucking Jew.

The half-Jewish blood

in my veins

boiled in shame.

12.

Twenty-five years ago, this very night,

I sat by the muttering gas fire,

in the blue light of the television

and the shadow of my father’s chair.

It was then that I hardened my heart,

for I was tormented by his weeping.

13.

Weep not,

for the dead are but dead

and the past is always passing

further and further over

the ever-receding horizon.

14.

Under the eiderdown I twist

like a colony of maggots

eating the last scant remains

of a corpse.

I am cocooned against

the January frost,

waiting for the watery dawn,

wishing this knot of cloth

was a chrysalis -

that I’d burst forth

from these dark dregs

into a wondrous and kindly light.

The clock on the mantle shelf

savages the last vestiges

of the night’s silence,

ticking its fascist beat,

dragging me ever onwards.

Malign,

its number fragmented face mocks:

its tic-toc like the rocking of railway carriages

and the tarnished laughter of Polish permafrost;

its hollow echo like the passing of freight wagons

through war torn, crumbling factory towns.

This clock,

with its bland, smug face,

measures the pulse

with the clinical precision of Mengele.

15.

The same sea in us all,

but waves breaking

on different shorelines.

Drunken footfalls

on the stair head

mark the passing

from night to dawn:

the clock laughing,

its hollow pedantry

as celebration reaches

inevitable anti-climax.

I wait for the door to open,

the return of the revellers,

my sisters and brothers:

one flesh,

but waves breaking

on different shores.

Belatedly, the feast

has been consumed.

Dry mouths have slaked their thirst

with dry waters;

and now the tongues are loose

with burnt offerings

to a dead poet.

16.

Hark, the heroes are returned!

Drunken and clamouring,

their voices raised and roused:

glorious, victorious

and, by the way,

totally fucking stocious.

The Saltire flies high,

blowing in the wind

of nationalist pride.

The Sassenachs

are once again routed:

slain by the true might

of Burns and Bruce.

With haggis and neeps in the belly

and the power of whisky

on their tongues, they ask

wha’s like us?

These true blue pure-blooded

xenophobic Scots.

Has the bagpipe’s wail

deafened their ears?

For none among them can hear

the same sea

which moves within us all.

17.

It’s not as many miles as you imagine

from Nuremberg to Hampden:

the cross is easily crooked.

When the soul is bled dry

there is nothing left

but the braying of empty minds.

18.

Four fifteen, a forest

of broken crucifixes,

flags, effigies,

the reek of stale beer

in half drunk cans:

I fix a coffee

in the crematorial kitchen,

resigning myself

to lack of sleep.

The celebrations are over

and darkened rooms

are littered with snoring:

making my solitude,

my sleeplessness,

all the more poignant.

In the broken wind

I hear black Lilith laughing:

Schottland Schottland

über alles.

Ich bin unbeweglich.

Four fifteen and I cannot sleep.

How can I sleep

when you are not asleep beside me?

19.

Back in those halcyon days

when her nest floated upon a calm sea

my mother would lull me to sleep, singing

Silent night, holy night,

All is still, all is quiet.

Back then, I believed

in the perfection of peace.

20.

Finally, I am arisen, like a phoenix

from the ashes of the night:

I wipe the sleeplessness from my eyes

and discard my bleached out, striped pyjamas

in a ragged, loveless heap,

like so much worn out Jew-flesh.

Out the window, the snow has turned to rain

and a thin line of watery daylight

has lain itself across the horizon.

Sat at my desk, I scrape my pen

across the stiff white parchment

of my leather-bound writing book

and cannot suppress the image

of Jewish skin -

it creeps upon me

with a Semitic tenacity,

sending into the penumbra

any Burnsian sentiments

that might be lurking

in the Scottish parts

of my bastard blood.

21.

Is it my bastard blood

which makes me fear

my country’s cry for nationhood?

What is this Scotland?

Is it not just a mass of land,

part of an island,

conquered by robber barons

whose bloodthirsty mouths

declared themselves kings?

Who are these Scots

that claim this nation?

Are they Picts, Celts and Norse?

Britons, Angles and Saxons?

Italians, Irish and Jews?

African, Chinese and Asian?

What line divides

the waves of immigrants

who have settled

on this fragment of island?

Whose hand divines

the right to be?

Who is Scottish, exactly?

Who can call this crag of rock

their homeland…

and for whom will only

arbeit macht frie?

22.

Ich bin, ich bin:

in the loveless dark,

in the icy January rain,

in a silent cold rage;

there is a swastika

where my heart used to be.

My love, my love,

what has become of me?

23.

Weary gunmetal dawn,

a miasma of monochrome:

the wind is stilled

and leaden rain

like dull crystal

softly splinters

on slush stained pavements.

24.

Here I am,

within the soulless framework

of technology,

filled with the rhythm

and hot impulses

of our time.

Herr Goebbels,

your ghost moves

in the salt wind,

whistling through

rusted metal

skeletal cranes,

raw rasping

Teutonic laughter -

Ich höre Sie.

These abandoned docks

bordering the cold wastes

of the northern sea,

my footprints alone

in the grey snow,

but across the waters

and across time,

your voice

following me.

No solace

in the dark sodium light

of this unpeopled hour.

Across the waters,

across time,

your voice is

a thousand broken windows,

a tongue of fire.

smoking chimneys,

a black leather zeitgeist.

From Zyklon B

to bunker suicide -

you see, Herr Goebbels,

tomorrow belongs to no-one.

25.

Among the carnage of yesterday

and the carnage of tomorrow

what hope is there for today?

What hope

for this dismal grey morning?

Without you, my love,

there is no love.

Without you,

there is no God

to oversee this chaos.

26.

These tomorrows, these yesterdays -

if you were here now

they would all be consumed

in the pyre of our passion play.

These flags,

these abstract arbitrary divisions,

would be wiped away.

The slate would be clean:

no scribbled saltire,

no tricolour or union jack

would sully its perfect blackness.

There’d be no star of David

muddying the sky,

no crescent moon.

All would be dissolved

in the fire of our Shiva-Shakti.

All would be undone

in the tender loop of love.

If you were here

I’d be blinded to unbelieving eyes.

No more would I see

this scorched skin,

these skeletons in stained shrouds

of striped cloth.

If you were here

I’d believe in a listening God:

one who heard the trains,

one who tasted the sweat,

the sorrow, the bitter ash

of Auschwitz-Birkenau;

one who could conjure up rainbows

and promise a perfect new tomorrow.

The End

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Emma Bernstein


Hot Breath Like Fog Rising

from cracked lips to glass
the atoms build themselves
pulling light from either

street, quiet in itself
lamp and grass and puddle
figure caught in the lull of mud

or perhaps the child peering down
imprisoned in webs of rust

perhaps it does not matter either way

we, the windows and the in between,
feel and watch the breath steamed against glass
every molecule trembling in the air at once

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Aaron Enskat

Orion
(For Brett, John, and Tommy)

For there is a particular beauty you will only find
in the moons penumbra amidst the thick, humid air
above a Midwestern cornfield in deep July.
When you can, go out together and breathe in the
sweat of the sky. Take your brothers hands,
scream high and loud into the ink dark darkness of
summer that you exist. Stand tall, fair, defiant until the
hangnail moon swoons. Stare out into brightening horizon.
Greet the morning bare knuckled and grinning.
Promise me you’ll always remember to tell tomorrow that
you’ve come ready. Your birthright will prove out, for you
are the children of Illinois soil, Illinois mud in your blood,
soy bean corn dirt water sweats from your pores. You cannot
help but have this world before you, for you chew the same
matter as those that spat hard in the eye of the real, those
who turned rivers against themselves, who dared to
dare when nature wasn’t enough.

Promise me you will, from time to time, step out into
the corn and soy fields of America and look deep into the disappearing
moon, into the stars eternally dying lights,
remember that you come from those who drank deep
from the hubris of the northern rivers,
rivers that thought they could stop us from making
their water go where we wanted.

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Jillian Blackwell

Should Lose Things

Should lose things like pens–
can’t remember and mustn’t care.
To fathom the land from the air is salt spilled on the
tablecloth. Hid by the pattern.
Can’t but fall into oscillations. Mountain-wrinkled knuckles.
The thread of a hair on a shower wall, the uncoughed
breath of air behind the throat.
A love for pages and rectangles, a paper desire for love
cries as it crinkles and folds.
There are so many things to end–fire and water both.
Hoping for red leaves fallen on sidewalks to
hold some of the cringe and the pity.
A descent into purple washes, a rest in watercolors.
Hoping someone could finger-pick a tune to this.

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Michael Davenport

cold

Moody light, first orange then red;
day’s sky flees dark’s insatiable maw.

Night falls heavily upon gentle dreamers
eating leaves.
Teeth part lives and blood,
howls snarl at the icy moon.

They come–
doe deer with fawn;
ewe sheep with lamb
to eat the gardens of the living.

Dawn covers stained leaves
with a soft gray missed,
or some mornings
a cold gray blanket for dreamers.

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Hannah Dow

Flaubert’s Habit

I have been here all year,
watching green become yellow become gold,
and I have stretched my limbs in offering
to the deer grazing at my roots,
to the children peering up with hands full of apples,
wondering who broke the sky into so many pieces.
Soon, the farmers will come to collect
what’s left of the harvest,
stuffing their drawers with my offspring:
their catalyst for writing
is the smell of aging apples.

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James Diaz

“The ruse and the agitation of the outside/inside”

Any depth of breath, every depth,
is scaling the height,
the notch where the night itemizes it’s detail,
those fox cove colors, the henna or/and nettle,
fast as all the undersides and silence
where beneath rocks the past animates dirt.

And you, and we, are cautious- kind to each other
by habit, we store our things,
floor plans for green houses, future seeds,
a box of letters with the pages kept empty for suspense,

On the other side of the forest where the waters have gone dry,
where wolf and mineral and white trail recede,
and one thinks suddenly, “Am I allowed this contemplation?”
Who does it feed?
Not the river.
Then you pack in those blurry edges
(carried, carved)
beaming from reed heart, shattered root.

I know the routine- we are in need,
and cannot only scratch the memory,
that is the road we have been down,
teaching ourselves only the necessary (little) requirement.
Where does one find water from there?

In the reserve voice (sweet) of the other?
Continued then, back into the punctuated Empire,
with arms full of produce, paper hearts,
those rescue whistles.
This is why we last,
as each-other(s), as endurable(s),
holding hands as we cut the bread,
feeding the story, and then ourselves.

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linda m. crate

slaughtering roses

dancing sunsets
on your eyes
turned blue to orange
wish i could still
pluck
the oranges of your eyes
devour all their beauty
lay the garland of
those citrines against my heart
as i slept in the coffee
of your cup;
but things change,
and so do people but not always
for the better -
you were a rose that wilted all it’s petals
instead grew more thorns
tried to impale me
with lies,
i knew how to dodge
burned me with questions hotter than the sun
grilled me with desire and rage;
but when it’s all said and done
your lonely thorns
aren’t enough to house a love for anyone,
but yourself
you will lay alone forever
in your castle of distance
colder than a winter’s wind you erode
romance until there is nothing
left,
but cold blue lips
imbibing ‘i love you’
before they too are blown away into some
forgetful sea,
and your thorns seek a new rose to
slaughter.

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R.T. Castleberry

THE STRINGS ATTACHED

I am not what I say about myself—Yasmina Reza

Lean with illness, lack of sleep,
anger grieving at a scarlet sunset silent in the sky,
the blossoming wind of winter’s rise toward spring,
all simple things become taunt, metaphor, measure.
As I tire, I see a fool an hour.
I hate a little more.

The lies begin mid-week—
stuttering spatter of a laugh,
a chatter of best intention
dripping like water from shaking hands.
I steer towards the damaged,
brokenness I can buy—
a landscape imagined as shattered pedestals,
wild piles of leaves igniting azalea, jasmine, gardenia,
whistling emptiness of building stakes
marking cracked sidewalk, over-grown lot.

Neatly orphaned, mostly abandoned
I revise my narrative
to fit the red and white of a revolutionary’s scarf,
to fit a French blue Oxford shirt.
Contradictions charm, whether sly or savage.
No one gets to know everything—
the cause for censure, the sibling break,
why the amusement when an aging comic fails,
why no wonder at the luminous child bride.

Breathless, a little self-absorbed,
a hard cough cracking my chest for weeks,
I adjust silence
so no messages are returned
that do not flatter.
That I’m moving beyond
the structures of easy grievances
may mean nothing.
Non sequitur retains its pleasure:
the stack of books beside the sofa
profile warfare, poetry,
the bluster of satire and sycophancy.
As I ache, illness takes over.

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Quincy D. Goss

Noelle

The stars seem like dull
Old diamonds now
Not at all like when we were young
And would abandon our fathers’ cars
And run
Tumbling into the grass
At the park.
We’d look up to the night
And allow
Ourselves to dive into the moon’s craters and
Swim among the bright
Beaming stars.

When I looked up at the sky last night
I saw smog. But if I
Was to leave this city and drive out
Miles from these city lights
Maybe then I could see the
Constellations that have been there before our time

We used to sit out in that field until the cool of the night swept
All the summer heat away.
But even in the chill, we’d
Lie together
Giggling, whispering, wondering why God kept
Caring about this dot of a world on the edge of the vast and magnificent Milky Way.

I wonder, wherever you are, whatever city you live in
If you look up sometimes too, and realize how far we’ve gone from heaven.

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