—For Feiga Maler, 1919-1942, who died in the Kraków Ghetto
It is just before the war cracks the land open like an egg.
Her mother’s voice—rooted in the naked grief of the Jews—
gives the kitchen walls goosebumps,
describing the bones of fear that glow
like spectacles perched on a stern schoolteacher’s nose.
Vertebrae shudder against ribs
so stressed, they slit flesh and skin.
Jaws stiffen into ache that causes hush and hunger.
Her life is a solitude of sweaty palms shrugged off
by the earth: clammy hands stroking the sky’s sunken belly.
And it seems that even the sparrows roost on telephone wires
that are like nerves in the air,
that even the Vistula flows only when swaddled like a newborn
in the tight-lipped moon’s cool light.
But she studies every fine hair on her forearms to learn
there is still an abundance of world.
And she imagines herself waltzing pressed to the bosom
of a different time when she could replace panic with song.
Lord, she would sing, my longing is a hungry toddler tasting each new toy.
This she knows: the breakable body has an undertow
and she moves forward like a pony wearing blinders,
seeing only the smallest sliver of things.
Yerra Sugarman is the author of three poetry collections: Aunt Bird, which is forthcoming from Four Way Books, The Bag of Broken Glass and Forms of Gone (both published by The Sheep Meadow Press). Her chapbook, From Her Lips like Steam, was published by the Aureole Press. She has received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry, among other honors. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Colorado Review, The Nation, AGNI, Bat City Review, Prairie Schooner and Tupelo Quarterly. She holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston.