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United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
One day, the stacked shoes begin to rise leisurely, puppets on strings.
At first people pour into the museum
to view the shoes floating about.
A curtain drawn back,
a chamber unlocked,
the shoes silently sweep through the air like Astaire & Rogers.
The watchers whisper & point, gasp
& stare. The murmurs ache
with melody, violins in a symphony.
A girl in a green dress
thinks the shoes are waltzing
the newspapers take to it, begin referring to them
as Little Dancers—
laces like wired shadows.
Soon the other exhibits go unnoticed.
A few people gather outside
with candles & army-surplus blankets,
singing songs about being saved
chanting prayers in unison.
This goes on for many nights
everyone who hears them is filled with a solemn beauty.
Some weep & others make silent vows.
Early on a Saturday in September,
an old security guard, coffee cup in hand
The Post tucked under his arm, holds the heavy doors open
a little too long,
the shoes start to slip through, a ballet of swirling, hovering
couples. Later, he will be quoted
as saying he never did spill a damn drop of coffee
or ruin his paper.
Never did he think
about closing that door.
Finding my Father’s Kinnor
When they break open my father’s lungs like a pistachio,
they find his kinnor still strung.
The soundboard has grown into bone,
five times the size it used to be.
The two arms that extend
parallel to the instrument's body
are now his arms,
not the mangled ones
crushed by that sleeping man
in a red-light running truck.
I was not there.
I was late.
I sneak into his autopsy,
a mask over my face
like the one I always wear,
and when the ten strings once made from sheep’s small intestine
start to sing,
we become haunted
by this absence of hollow,
by this inner beauty.
So they stand, knife in hand,
while I admire his arms
that look thick & strong,
like stone, heavy enough
to lift me back into his song.
Dear Sister Dreydel,
Tell me how this happened, what went wrong?
Before we knew the signs, to be on watch,
you swallowed a dreydel, a wooden one,
the size of a radish. This ancient tool for learning,
now a holiday toy, became your nickname.
The babysitter often stared at corners,
worrying about where the toy went
and worse, how it got out.
Yes, some mysteries are
better left alone.
Once you ate a cactus, soil and all.
By age three, your tongue turned blue
for ten days before the berry-pit red
returned. Mother found the remains
of an ink pad in her art drawer.
They began to suspect you hungered
for color when the following summer
you beheaded the doctor’s prized Mammoth Sunflowers.
In third grade, your teacher noticed missing bonsai buds.
We began to laugh less & wonder more.
You withdrew from playtime, shrank
from anything gentle. How did your need
for understanding in a world hardly
black-&-white become violent?
By fourteen, you broke into houses
to cut cords from neighbor’s phones.
You punched stacked melons in the neighborhood
grocer, cursed nuns at the local kitchen,
even pushed one down a flight of stairs.
That summer, you failed
several attempts to out siren a cop car.
Drugs & shrinks were useless.
Therapy tore you down—
didn’t keep you too submerged
from trouble. By high school,
you immersed yourself
in street shadows, spinning more and more
out of control, giving money
to anyone who asked
but looked for shortcuts to get more.
Many mornings you search for a way
to measure emotions, to explore meaning
behind simple smiles, to decode the language
of shrugs & gestures. You can’t
read eyes or understand faces.
You never see light’s pulse in hair,
never the stars in eyes or when they
change from skyglow to gun-dark.
You still collect museums of marbles
in mason jars and a universe of new pennies
in another you call starshine.
You steal strings of gold
from neighbors, try to swallow
a few to feel the shimmer.
You gulp our cousin’s goldfish
into your mouth but reject any pills
that could help. After a few years, doctors
stop making marks in files
and nurses note more gauze,
more places to patch.
After two decades, we agree
without saying so
to give up, giving in to a system
of tough-love shelters
drowning in grave-gray.
How to explain your disorder
to your left behind baby?
Our shrink said you’re a deep-sea diver
always in darkness, and your mind:
a sunken ship.
Do you see how this happened?
What went wrong?
Tell me. I’m ready to listen.
Tell me. Where do you sleep,
why do you refuse
aid? Tell me
what you crave.
-from The Floating Door, Glass Lyre Press 2018
PROMPT: M.E. Silverman's "Dear Sister Dreydel," tells the story of the speaker's sister and her troubles with mental health in the form of an address, a poem that speaks directly to the subject of the poem itself. Read more about poetic addresses here and compose your own to a troubling and/or troubled family member, friend, pet...you get the idea.
BIO: M. E. Silverman is founder of Blue Lyra Review. His books include: The Floating Door (Glass Lyre Press) and The Breath before Birds Fly (ELJ Press). His poems have appeared in over 70 journals, including: Crab Orchard Review, 32 Poems, December, Chicago Quarterly Review, North Chicago Review, Hawai'i Pacific Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology, The Los Angeles Review, Mizmor L'David Anthology: The Shoah, Many Mountains Moving, Pacific Review, and other magazines. He co-edited Bloomsbury’s Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry with Deborah Ager, New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust with Howard Debs, and 101 Jewish Poems for the Third Millennium with Nancy Naomi Carlson. Read more at https://www.mesilverman.org/.