Steven Levi is a writer and historian living in Alaska. His father was a Holocaust refugee from Torino, Italy. “The Shriek of the Garden Gate” is Steven’s 1980 visit to the house his father fled in 1939. His father’s autobiography is available on Amazon.
garden gate shrieks in agony
from the years of disuse and neglect.
The hinges groan as the fingers
of Father Time loosen their grasp of rust
and allow the gate to swing open.
Inside, between two trees, sterile with age,
the garden has become a jungle of domesticated
plants grown wild, a beast of brown and green,
devouring the gentle terraces. These terraces
were the anguish of a generation of artists,
sculptors of living greenery.
This was the garden of my family, a garden of repose
in downtown Torino. Here birds flitted from tree
to tree to tree, where fruit hung heavy, where
the walls of stone bathed in the warmth
of the Mediterranean sun.
Then, the tramp of the Black Shirts filled the
garden. Eyes peered over the stone wall.
Ears listened at the cracks. The chanting in the
streets drowned the benedictions in Hebrew.
Blood seeped through these walls, soaking into
this garden of repose. It poisoned the soil.
The fig trees died. The nightingales fled
leaving only the jays and sparrows to rustle
about in the weeds. The laughter of children
died and Hebrew was merely a distant echo,
whispering from the crumbling mortar.
. . . and one is left to ponder whether
the shriek of the hinges is an epitaph
of the past
or a warning for