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01-28-2019

M.E. Silverman

Miracle Shoes

 

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, 

happily amazed,

 

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/.