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Peggy Landsman: Holocaust Poems

Peggy Landsman is the author of a poetry chapbook, To-wit To-woo (Foothills Publishing), and an out-of-print romance novel, Passion’s Professor (Midnight Showcase), which she wrote under the pen name Samantha Rhodes. Her poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in many online and print literary journals and anthologies, including Bigger Than They Appear: Anthology of Very Short Poems (Accents Publishing), Breathe: 101 Contemporary Odes (C&R Press), The Muse Strikes Back (Story Line Press), and Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press). She lives in South Florida, where she swims in the warm Atlantic Ocean every chance she gets. Her website can be explored at

for Beryl and Zelda Botwinik
When I was a little girl in New Jersey
I saw the photo
of that little boy in the Warsaw ghetto.
I could not unlock his large dark eyes from mine.
Then there were the films
of people who’d gone to camps
that had nothing to do with summer.
Beryl and Zelda, our Polish cousins,
came from Israel to live with us.
They spoke Hebrew, Polish, and Yiddish.
I helped them with their English.
Zelda had saved her life by jumping from a train.
Beryl fought in the underground.
He told me things.
Images of naked corpses spilling into open pits,
the occasional open, empty hand
clawed my nighttime dark.
Bedtime turned against rest.
I turned to books, to covert reading
long after parental “lights out.”
I read Anne Frank’s diary,
Adolph Hitler’s biography —
the one William L. Shirer wrote especially for young readers;
Elie Wiesel’s Night....
Night after night on page after page
trapped in the beam of my flashlight,
the printed words froze like prisoners
who failed to make their escape.

what is preying on us?
the death of the earth is certain
the black-dwarfing of the sun foretold
yet unformed forms are forming
we only get in trouble when we don't mind
that little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto—
his eyes go on forever
everything is remembered
yet-unformed forms are forming
though the death of the earth is certain
the black-dwarfing of the sun foretold
we only get in trouble when we don't mind
the nightmare express wrecks
leaps its tracks
are we alive again?
we thank god
even when the inner-light of everyone is cindered
god's will be done—
the impossible ignition of another six million suns.
First published in Mosaic, 1994

The tea bag sinks to the bottom of the cup.
I wait a few minutes; watch as the water turns dark.
I sip the tea. It works no magic.
I go outside; watch the sun set.
As it sinks into the Pacific,
Cirrus clouds—high overhead—turn pink.
In Sarajevo, Mufid's mother
Marinated pink rose petals in large glass jars of sugar water.
She set the jars on the window sill early in the morning.
They made the most of ordinary light.
In Osaka, sakura yuki. Cherry blossom snow.
That's what I called it.
Walking along the river in the wind and rain—
Cherry blossoms.
At Kibbutz Usha, I killed a snake
On the stoop out back behind the kitchen.
In the middle of peeling and chopping two hundred seventy onions,
My eyes tear-blind and mad with stinging,
I smashed in its skull with a stone.
Night after night...
I think about the former Yugoslavia.
On the spot where Gavrilo Princip took aim and shot,
The impression of a pair of pointy-toed shoes
Is sunk in the sidewalk. Preserved in bronze.
I stood in them. They were just my size.
So many spots where I stood in Kobe
Waiting for all those job interviews, the trains at Sannomiya.
Waiting and watching as Black Vans rolled.
Impossible to not think about the Holy Land.
Tonight another bombing of another bus in Jerusalem.
Somewhere down the street a car backfires.
It startles me. I turn around.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century
the thing that still amazes me
is how easily I startle.
First published in the 2004 Political Issue of

Hagar and Sarah should have talked,
Laughed together when alone.
Who did Abraham think he was—
Ha-Yehudi ha-rishon?*
Ishmael and Isaac should have been
Boon companions, closer than brothers,
Passing their days doing their chores,
Tending their father's sheep together...
Staying up late entertaining themselves
Arguing over the numbers of stars
Each was the first to have named.
*“Ha-Yehudi ha-rishon” is Hebrew for “The first Jew.”

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