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Pittsburgh Synagogue Poetry: Poems for the Victims and Survivors of the Tree of Life — Or L'Simcha Congregation

These are poems for the victims and survivors of the shooting massacre that occurred on October 27, 2018 at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life — Or L'Simcha Congregation. This is a conservative Jewish synagogue that describes itself as "traditional, progressive, and egalitarian." The synagogue is located in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, close to Carnegie Mellon University, a few miles east of downtown Pittsburgh. The Squirrel Hill neighborhood is one of the largest predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in the United States and has historically been the center of Pittsburgh's Jewish community. Eleven people were killed, and seven were injured in the shooting, the largest massacre of Jews on American soil. Our hearts go out to those who died and to their loved ones and friends who survive them.

The poem below, which has been dedicated to the children of the Holocaust, was recited by Somers High School student Robert Davidson at a memorial service held on November 2, 2018.

by Michael R. Burch

Something inescapable is lost—
lost like a pale vapor curling up into shafts of moonlight,
vanishing in a gust of wind toward an expanse of stars
immeasurable and void.

Something uncapturable is gone—
gone with the spent leaves and illuminations of autumn,
scattered into a haze with the faint rustle of parched grass
and remembrance.

Something unforgettable is past—
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
and finality has swept into a corner where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.

this page was compiled by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry

For a Shooting Victim, with Butterflies
by Michael R. Burch

Where does the butterfly go
when lightning rails, when thunder howls,
when hailstones scream while winter scowls
and nights compound dark frosts with snow?
Where does the butterfly go?

Where does the rose hide its bloom
when night descends oblique and chill
beyond the capacity of moonlight to fill?
When the only relief's a banked fire's glow,
where does the butterfly go?

And where shall the spirit flee
when life is harsh, too harsh to face,
and hope is lost without a trace?
Oh, when the light of life runs low,
where does the butterfly go?

Here is a prayer-poem that I would like to dedicate to the survivors of the Tree of Life shootings and to the victims' families and friends:

I Pray Tonight
by Michael R. Burch

I pray tonight
the starry light
surround you.

I pray
each day
that, come what may,
no dark thing confound you.

I pray ere the morrow
an end to your sorrow.
May angels' white chorales
sing, and astound you.

I would also like to quote a poem that seems appropriate as we think about comforting and helping the survivors:

Come Lord and Lift
by T. Merrill

Come Lord, and lift the fallen bird
   Abandoned on the ground;
The soul bereft and longing so
   To have the lost be found.

The heart that cries—let it but hear
   Its sweet love answering,
Or out of ether one faint note
   Of living comfort wring.

Those of us who oppose the Holocaust have a saying: "Never again!" From this day forward I hope that we, as a nation, will say "Never again!" to such grotesque and horrendous acts. I dedicate my poems to the victims may they rest in peace — and I urge all Americans to act now, before the next massacre. If we don't, our loved ones will remain continually at risk.

Epitaph for a Tree of Life Victim

by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

I wrote the poem below for a child gunned down by another madman. While we cannot legislate sanity, we can be sane enough to legislate away the "right" of serial killers to purchase assault weapons so easily. We can protect many small victims from such carnage, if "we the people" have the wisdom and the will to defend them—not just with words, but with actions.

Child of 9-11
by Michael R. Burch

a poem for Christina-Taylor Green, who was born
on September 11, 2001 and died at the age of nine,
shot to death ...

Child of 9-11, beloved,
I bring this lily, lay it down
here at your feet, and eiderdown,
and all soft things, for your gentle spirit.
I bring this psalm — I hope you hear it.

Much love I bring — I lay it down
here by your form, which is not you,
but what you left this shell-shocked world
to help us learn what we must do
to save another child like you.

Child of 9-11, I know
you are not here, but watch, afar
from distant stars, where angels rue
the brutal things some mortals do.
I also watch; I also rue.

And so I make this pledge and vow:
though I may weep, I will not rest
nor will my pen fail heaven's test
till guns and wars and hate are banned
from every shore, from every land.

Child of 9-11, I grieve
your tender life, cut short ... bereaved,
what can I do, but pledge my life
to saving lives like yours? Belief
in your sweet worth has led me here ...

I give my all: my pen, this tear,
this lily and this eiderdown,
and all soft things my heart can bear;
I bear them to your final bier,
and leave them with my promise, here.

This haiku below makes me think of the Tree of Life victims, who were trapped in a war zone:

stood at the end of the hall
in the long shadows
—original haiku by Watanabe Hakusen, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It is up to Americans, as a nation, to reject war and embrace peace:

Piercing the Shell
by Michael R. Burch

If we strip away all the accouterments of war,
perhaps we'll discover what the heart is for.

If you read this far, I thank you very much for your time, and I ask you once again to consider doing everything you can to help prevent similar massacres from happening in the future.

Related pages: Parkland Poems, Sandy Hook Poems, Santa Fe Poems, Aurora Poetry, Columbine Poems, Courtni Webb's Sandy Hook Poem and Possible Expulsion, Darfur Poems, Gaza Poems, Haiti Poems, Hiroshima Poems, Holocaust Poems, Nakba Poems, 911 Poems, Trail of Tears

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