The HyperTexts

Roger Hecht: Holocaust Poetry

Roger Hecht (1926-1990) was an American poet who published five books of poetry in his lifetime: 27 Poems, Signposts, Parade of Ghosts, Burnt Offerings, and a limited edition of his selected poems entitled A Quarreling of Dust. His poetry appeared in highly regarded literary magazines such as The Paris Review, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Quarterly Review of Literature, Sewanee Review, Choice, Minnesota Review and Voyages, where he served as an Advisory Editor. He was educated at Bard and at Kenyon College.

Burnt Offerings

Now all night long I hear some dead Jews calling,
Calling, calling someone, maybe me.
No, it is no nightmare. All that bawling
Is only what you might call history.

That ended long ago. I thought them lost
Or saved and in a haven far away.
Now they return, each one a pilgrim ghost
Come begging me for what I do not know.

Dislodged from camps they'd made their ark and covenant,
They visited America between
The deaths they lived and the unseen
Future they did their damnedest to prevent.

With miles and miles of tape I interviewed
Hundreds, hundreds of them. Always the same,
The horrible and same I came to know:
"Please help me. No, you can't. Remove my crime.

For God's sake tell me why I did not die."
The same details. The crying. The fierce hope
For death I could not help them with. A lie.
I lie again: I swear death's no escape.

I tap a cigarette. It starts to burn.
And as I smoke I see a crying face
Wheedle me to murder. Will I? Please.
Again I fail them. And again I mourn
Creatures I could not kill and can't erase
Half of a life since those now memories
And I confronted human helplessness
And something twisted, some grace or disgrace
In wanting to be ashes in no urn.
I smoke. I have no answers. And no ease.

Originally published in Burnt Offerings, The Lightning Tree, 1979
Reprinted by permission of the author's literary estate.

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