By Beryl Dov Lew
September 9, 1944/AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU
Mother's cheeks were rouged with clay
painting youth on her deathly pallor --
"Beckelach vie raiteh pomoreintzen".*
Chocking back her cough and dysenteric bowels with bated breath,
she stepped skittishly across the rain soaked yard --
"Fiselach vus betten zich tzu tanzin"*
I ran like a shadow in front of her
trying to shield her emaciated body with mine,
trying to conceal her flesh, sinewy as barbed wire.
A scythe gloved in white pointed left to 'disinfection'.
She turned and waved to me, her helpless shadow,
and bravely threw kisses as she would at a railway station.
That was the last time I saw my mother.
The crematoria rained ash all afternoon.
I lifted my palms to the blackened sky
to catch what was left of her.
I cupped ash across my cheek,
recalling her tender touch;
I stuck it in my ears,
listening for her reassuring words ---
but there were none.
I asked God,
"What Providence lay in the fall of this sparrow?
What higher purpose has been served by the stilling of this heart?"
I fell to the ground and kissed the ash,
fragile as the dust of butterfly wings,
and heard her sweet voice.
She said, "Live."
Covering the ash with clay,
and chocking back the tears,
to become a mother, grand mother, great grandmother,
to become the sacred vessel of her memory --
which I now pass on to you.
*"Beckelach vie raiteh pomoreintzen" -- cheeks like red pomegranates
*"Fiselach vus betten zich tzu tanzin" -- feet that beg to dance
- from a Yiddish folk song
from the August 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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