it is a terror
in the closet   her knees
are limp     eyes straining to see 
every object glows with a 
private halo     pulling down
her skirt       the trickle 
of urine along her thigh and calf
she wipes it carelessly with her hand
biting her lips she fixates on
pebbles and rusty nails along 
the path to the truck            it is an oblivion
seen in matter-of-fact gestures
wiping the child’s nose with her fingers
she says     blow     his eyes shine     as she 
feels the pressure of the doorknob        palms 
wet slipping out of her grasp            she whispers
not now        not yet       we’ve been so careful
he’s a good child         just a little more time
she pleads with them       we will not be 
careless anymore         this time the knob falls 
into the glare of lights        voices scream
orders she does not understand    but obeys
blow    she tells him pulling down her skirt
and wiping his nose with her fingers     later
it is still over      has been over 
since the knob slipped from her hand
like the wet fish that jumped while she tried
to scale it      later after the not yet
not now       the walk nude across the yard
she glimpses the meaning of the order
allows her eyes to widen for one
moment and see the path             it is a coldness
never before felt or imagined       she clutches 
her hands tearing at her thighs    wailing 
to the others she tries to lean on them
to explain the mistake    the small error
nothing is irrevocable     she screams     nothing 
to them trying to lean      they push her away
and her hands cup the knob     for a better hold
to keep out the light        her world is cement
stone    iron 


listening to conversations        over brandy
i am always amazed at their certainty
about the past      how it could have been
different      could have been     turned around
with what ease       they transport themselves
to another time/place      taking the comfort
confidence of an after-dinner drink

                       it would be too impolite
of me to say       my mother hid with me
for two years among ignorant peasants    who
would have turned us in      almost at once      had 
they known who we were      who would have watched 
with glee while we were carted off      even though
grandad had bounced me on his knees and fed me 
from his own spoon      and my mother is a frightened 

                        it would be too impolite 
to say     you do not know yourselves     you do not know 

"perspectives on the second world war" from Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems1971-2021 © 2022 by Irena Klepfisz. Published by Wesleyan University Press. Used by permission.

You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,
And no man claimed the conquest of your land.
But gropers both through fields of thought confined
We stumble and we do not understand.
You only saw your future bigly planned,
And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,
And in each other’s dearest ways we stand,
And hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind. 

When it is peace, then we may view again
With new-won eyes each other’s truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving-king and warm
We’ll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm
The darkness and the thunder and the rain.

From Marlborough and Other Poems (Cambridge University Press, 1919) by Charles Hamilton Sorley. Copyright © 1919 by Charles Hamilton Sorley. This poem is in the public domain.

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I'm lonely—
I'll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That's good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That's good!

Then God himself stepped down—
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas—
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That's good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I'm lonely still.

Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I'll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen.      Amen.

From God's Trombones by James Weldon Johnson. Copyright © 1927 The Viking Press, Inc., renewed 1955 by Grace Nail Johnson. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.