Juan Gelman: Open Letter, XIII


have you come and I don’t see you? / where
are you hidden? / will nothing ever distract me
from you at last? / I groan in the night /
I hold the groan inside myself it is

my refusal to be comforted / wounded absence /
withering / missing you / how many diapers ago /
did you visit me / I come outside of all things
to see you / hating

my own pretending / the having been / the do-you-remember /
the touch that pulls me inside out / my son /
can you fly through these staves ? / can it be that
giving myself up frm myself / i may hold you

though the city outskirts / the plazas where I look for you ? /
not finding you do I go on thinking? /
do I win the loss of you to lose myself? /
by unsouling myself can I at last soul your little soul?

Juan Gelman

Translation by Joan Lindgren
Image: detail from Madre by blmurch

Awful Remembrance

Emptied barracks at Birkenau (Brzezinka)

Image: Birkenau by Turbo Mi

Yesterday was the fifth annual observance of the United Nation’s International Holocaust Day of Remembrance. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly
selected 27 January as the date of “universal commemoration” in memory of the victims of the holocaust as it was on that date, 60 years earlier, that Soviet troops liberated the largest of the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  The International Holocaust Day of Remembrance is distinct from Yom HaShoah, a day of Jewish commemoration that is fixed on the Jewish calendar (April or May).

My friend Jay reminded me of the U.N. international day, sending along an MSN link of popular sites relevant to the day.  The United Nations has a moving program of remembrance you can access here.  Additionally, yesterday was the 65th anniversary of the arrival of Soviet troops at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the Russian Times ran a  moving video feature–just over 6 minutes, in English, worth waiting for the remarkable personal remembrance of a Russian-Jewish man who survived Auschwitz twice!–you can access the video here.

Some personal notes, in passing:  my mother (now 93) was 28 years old when she faced selektion at Auschwitz; evidently, she was regarded as robust enough to be selekted for a work detail in northwestern Germany.  It wasn’t until my conversations with her in the late 1980’s that I began to understand how the grammar and diction of her remembrance differed from ours.  At the time, she didn’t show any signs of recognizing the name “Auschwitz” telling me instead that she’d been at a camp called Oświęcim (pronounced osh-veeyen-chim) which, I later “discovered” was the name of the Polish village that had been Germanized into Auschwitz.  Like many others of her background whom I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing over the years, my mother tended to not use the same terms we use for remembrance.  For example, where we might say “victim” they’ll tend to say prisoner or inmate.  Where we will say “survivor” they’ll tend to prefer the term “remnant.”  And, when we might ascribe to them the characterisitcs of personal “heroism” or “fortitude” they’ll correct us with something like “dumb luck.”

Constantine P. Cavafy: “In the Evening”

It wouldn’t have lasted long anyway—
the experience of years makes that clear.
Even so, Fate did put an end to it a bit abruptly.
It was soon over, that wonderful life.
Yet how strong the scents were,
what a magnificent bed we lay in,
what pleasure we gave our bodies.

An echo from my days given to sensuality,
an echo from those days came back to me,
something of the fire of the young life we shared:
I picked up a letter again,
and I read it over and over till the light faded away.

Then, sad, I went out on to the balcony,
went out to change my thoughts at least by seeing
something of this city I love,
a little movement in the street and the shops.
C. P. Cavafy

Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Image: Evening view from my balcony by Stig Nygaard

Thom Gunn: “The Reassurance”

...לזכר יהודה קעץˎ חבר שמכבר. בן אדם שנקטף בדמי ימיו


About ten days or so
After we saw you dead
You came back in a dream.
I’m all right now you said.

And it was you, although
You were fleshed out again:
You hugged us all round then,
And gave your welcoming beam.

How like you to be kind,
Seeking to reassure.
And, yes, how like my mind
To make itself secure.

Thom Gunn

image: The candles 026 by Ravenscar