These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Take 5] Faith Brigham: Poetry From Poland

Posted on February 9, 2011 by Joel D.

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By Faith Brigham

“Barefoot and exposed I walk along a shoreline.

With the clumping of a million grains of sand, my toes tingle

Reminding me of my human-ness.

My body-ness.

The limitless of these grains tickle my brain as they tickle my limited body.

A conch shell lies before me.

My eyes gravitate towards its shades of white, pink, and grey and its prickly exterior of barnacles.

As if waiting for my seeking fingers, I scoop it up from its sandy resting place.

I feel its smooth inside, aged by tides of time.

The timeless flow of water on shell prickles my own internal, ticking clock.

I pull it closer still, until my right ear is completely covered. Its empty walls echo the beginnings of a treasured story.

And suddenly, I am Alice.

Being beckoned by the rabbit hole.

I fall for a long time,

listening to secret vibrations of past, present, and future.

I hear the story of the tide’s ebb and flow and the shells many inhabitants.

Periods of turbulent seas and soothing, constant currents.

Grainy beaches and the sometimes gentle, sometimes fierce, rays of the burning sun.

Its grooves and bumps record an impression of the mystical cycle we call the “natural order.”

A piercing sound signals a dramatic shift.

And then as quickly as it began, this story transforms into a violent,

uncontrollable lack of order.

A tale is told. A tale of The Hurricane

The brutal, self-generating force that indiscriminately terrorized

whatever lay in its path in 1939,

Forcing all to surrender to its will and salute to its power.

Propelled by the strength of this all-encompassing force, every konk tumbled, flew and chaotically followed the barrage of pounding pressure.

When the last inhabitants were thrusted from their homes, millions of empty shells lined the recesses of the deep with stillness.

In the settling of the storm and the reappearance of the forgotten sun, life starts to tingle.

Each ray of light sings a song.

Some burst onto the Earth shouting, “Arouse Yourself! Arouse Yourself! For your light has come, arise, shine. Awake, awake, utter a song, the glory of the Lord is revealed upon you!”

Others insist, “Do not be ashamed nor confounded, why are you downcoast and why are you agitated? The afflicted of my people will find refuge in you, the city will be rebuilt on its former site.”

Finally, some reassuringly affirm, “To the right and to the left you shall spread out and the Lord you shall extol. And we should rejoice through the man that is a descendent of Peretz.”

The empty shells shiver in the blossoming song of sun-light, beckoning for the earth to hear each tale. Hoping for searching fingers to tenderly take their prickly, demolished bodies to an open, listening ear.

6 million stories to be told,

6 million unfathomable tales to be embraced.

_ _ _

I wondered if such a task was possible-

To open oneself up, to bear witness, to understand.

I wondered all the way to Poland,

And I feared,

I feared that it was not.

So I stood… and I listened.

In an empty, silent forest; where dark trees jet from the ground’s heavy blanket of white snow.

My boots crunch producing the first sound as I listened to the stories of naked, innocent bodies laying in mass graves below my feet.

At Belzec, the name L’vov, a long ago home for my great grandfather, is etched into the cement under my steps, squeezing the veins bringing blood to my heart.

And at Madanek,

In the dark, motionless

Crematorium- where body size slits welcomed limp limbs

Of those lost long ago, I listened.

And again, and again, through barb-wired fences and looming watchtowers, I listened.

At Aushwitz, at Burkenau- where words flee the scene before you, I listened.

And in the quaking organs of my body as I davened in old, lonely, glorious shuels, I listened here too.

To the stories of those with me. Lost grandparents, aunts and uncles.

And then the miraculous tales of endurance, survival, hope, and life, I listened.

In the empty expanse of the countryside,

And the lint-filled sky hovering above my head,

and the pulsating rhythm of my heart,

and the tears mounting in my soul,

I listened.

Holding tight to these empty konks, I knew.

I knew that as I listened to the precious stories trying to escape, to be heard to the end of days, so too was

I listening to my own bloods circulation in my alive, healthy body…and in this, I was hearing my own story too.”

Pardes trips to Poland are run in partnership with Heritage Seminars. The Claims Conference has provided trip scholarships for qualifying Pardes participants, as well as subsidies for program components directed at Jewish educators. cc_logo_copy_OP