Karen Shenfeld lives in Toronto and has published three books of poetry with
Guernica Editions: The Law of Return, 1999 (which won the Canadian
Jewish Book Award for poetry in 2001), The Fertile Crescent, 2005, and,
most recently, My Father’s Hands Spoke in Yiddish, 2010. Her work has
also appeared in well-known journals published in Canada, the United States,
South Africa, and Bangladesh, and she has given readings in Canada, the U.S.,
Mexico, England (at the home of Lord Tennyson), and South Africa (at the
original Manenberg’s Jazz Café). Her poetry has been featured on CBC Radio,
CUIT, and on 39 Dover Street, a short-wave literary radio program produced on
the Isle of Wight, U.K. Shenfeld has also brought her poetic sensibility to the
writing of magazine stories, for such publications as Saturday Night and Toronto
Life. Her personal documentary, Il Giardino, The Gardens of Little
Italy, was screened at the 2007 Planet in Focus International Environmental
Film & Video Festival. She is currently at work on two new documentary films and
on a fourth book. Shenfeld is a peace activist and a leading member of Shalom
A Tour of Brighton Street
There, behind the blue door,
the one who cooked.
the one who painted;
he marches through
his rooms, waving
a stiffened brush like a flag.
And down the block,
and across the street,
the one who prayed,
married to the one who didn't.
behind the yellow door,
the one who sewed;
she sits in her windows,
stitching poems round
the hem of her daughter’s dress.
And over there,
behind the red door,
the one who shovelled;
mornings, you can watch as
he buries his wife's wedding ring
in the backyard and,
evenings, digs it up again.
Not here, but there,
the one who played the violin
and has forgotten how to sing.
Nothing More Illuminating
Knowing a little of the laws of
bearded mystics uncovered hidden correspondences
to deduce God’s truth,
he tallied the blue numerals,
mined ancient texts,
but came up with nothing
more illuminating than the indelible sum.
In a Country Called Canada
Canada was the name given to denote the section of Auschwitz-Birkenau where the
belongings of those deported to the camp were sorted before being shipped to
In a country called Canada,
trees are made of pots and pans,
piled one on top the other from
the cemented ground to the sky.
In black iron forests,
birds alight on branches that are handles
sticking out in all directions.
With their sharp beaks, they peck
the branches in search of insects,
but find instead dried bits of egg.
In a country called Canada,
hills and mountains
are heaps of empty wooden trunks,
lost to their owners long ago.
Soil has lodged
in the cracks and spaces between them,
and, in the soil,
wild grasses and flowers have seeded.
Blankets float on
the surface water of the lakes
in a country called Canada.
They ripple and toss like shawls,
covering the shoulders of
the old men rocking in prayer.
Below the blankets, perambulators
are sunk like small ships. Fish dart
between the drowned spokes
of their wheels, school
in the spaces of their drawn shades.
No one lives in this country called Canada.
Pilgrims come to picnic in the shadows
of its black iron trees,
whose branches stick out
in all directions like tipped menorahs.
Between the blankets floating on
the surface of the lakes,
they cast for fish they know
cannot be caught. If
they are strong and surefooted,
they may reach the peak of the tallest mountain
and lift open the lid of the highest trunk
to look into its void.