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Star of David on the entrance to the Kovno Jewish Cemetery. Photo credit: Florida Center for Instructional Technology

Veiled and Unveiled

Poetry by Michael Salcmann

The wheat field we pass
on the drive to the cemetery
recalls a sour biblical metaphor
and van Gogh’s last canvas
found on his easel
after he’d shot himself
dazed by the shadows of crows

Near my uncle’s grave,
a pair of cenotaphs stand
engraved with the names
of those who disappeared,
among them my grandparents
Moshe and Rivka,
and my Father’s sisters,
Judith, Rachel and Leah,
names I’ve never heard him speak
except from the bible.
Now he reads them weeping,
his left hand resting on the Hebrew,
the other pointing at me,
its index finger, like God
leaning into my brow.

On the stela, it says
“Slaughtered and burned by the Germans”,
slaughtered and burned;
because they knew
that death was not enough
to excise memory or steal a name.

When we unveil my uncle’s stone,
it shines like a bride’s face
held in the hands of her father—
a covering up, a taking away
veiled and unveiled at once,
naked like our eyes before an enemy.

§ § §

Michael Salcman was chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland, and serves as president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. His poems have appeared in Harvard Review, Raritan, Poetry East, Nimrod, Atlanta Review and New York Quarterly. His third chapbook, A Season Like This (Finishing Line, Kentucky) was published in 2004.

Reprinted from Ink Pot #7; available now

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