Mizmor L'David Anthology 


Poetica Magazine: Contemporary Jewish Writing

Rhymes With Infinity
Brian Yapko

this long, twisted road,

obstacled by bones, haunted by death,

   lost between killing fields in poland,

   ukraine, czechoslovakia, shivering for

   the ghosts of centuries.


have pulled crumbling bricks from the

   walls at Auschwitz, Buchenwald --

   finding paper fragments thick with lost

   words; the only relics left of millions.

imagine wanting desperately to

leave something behind but voiceless --

   no poem. nothing to say remember me.

   blood makes poor ink.

   who will speak for them?

sometimes poems enrage me; the pursuit

of beauty eschewing the unspeakable --

   lips tight, ears deaf, evading painful

   answers, skating too fast, too

   blindly past the voiceless.

we have heard each others’ words.

but how is that enough?

   what of theirs? those desecrated souls

   robbed of rhyme and metaphor;

   lost to time as if they had never lived?

i must write. yet i am crushed by the

magnitude of lives unremembered, humbled by

   a universe of anonymous sepia-tinted faces.

   what rhymes with infinity?

   ah, divinity. divinity comes close.

The Twice Divided Heart
Brian Yapko

The lullabies my mother cooed were German.

Schlaf mein kindlein” she would softly hum,

Forbidden words she could not teach to me

Because in our house German was unclean.


The Yiddish that my father spoke came not

From Poland but from Brooklyn Heights, New York.

Yeshiva-soldier fighting World War Two.

A secret marriage that begat a son.

Conceiving me they wanted something new

To cancel all the stigmas of the past

Unfettered by the ghosts and grief of war

Hanukkah and Christmas both the same.

So what commitment was it that they taught?

Holy days ignored. Commandments, too.

Completely free, they said, yet still a Jew,

Even though the Talmud says I’m not.

The Tabernacle doors are closed to me –

Yet still I’m loved! They gambled I’d eschew

A path of faith. That my life would be safe

So long as they both lived within my soul.

I did not choose my parents but I’m glad

For who they were. Defiant, caring, brave.

One watched me with brown eyes. The other blue.

But goodness looks the same through either hue.

What was bequeathed to me I must transcend.

Despite the Law, my life is mine to choose.

Uncounted, I chant Kaddish for them both.

My twice-divided heart is with the Jews.

Falling in Safed
Brian Yapko

All those years I had grown gray waiting

to see Safed, the mystical city, holy

city of dreams, of a thousand hues and
who expected a fury of wind and rain?

My heart hoped to stroll the ancient alleys
gazing at paintings, my soul on fire from

incandescent color brought to Earth
from heaven by a touch of the artist’s hand.

My soul sought to explore ancient poems,
to contemplate Kabbalah and Luria instead of

huddling inside quaint arched tunnels marked
with Stars of David and the damp whisperings

of Lecha Dodi, my wet clothes stuck to me
like an extra layer of skin. I pray to be saved.

Anxious and lost, I hide in doorways.
Like Jacob I climb stair upon stair aching

and, in the wet, I slip on pavement stones from
the Byzantine period, I fall buckling my knee,

dropping but not breaking the hamsa I bought,
the fall cutting me, the redness coloring

the cobbled pavement like watercolors in the
gallery window. This pain, this unexpected

offering of blood – this is not the Sabbath in my
vision. But now I see the Bride running with an

umbrella to me, sneakers squeaking. Her words
in Hebrew I do not know, but her smile and the

smell of baking challah is healing in the rainy air.
I fell in Safed. But, with help, I rose.