[When she was fenced off even from herself]

When she was fenced off even from herself, she had that strangled feeling
as if the alphabet forgot her lips.

How did she mend thoughts that snapped like strained violin strings?
Sometimes, her mind was a turnip she buried in the ground.

Licked by wind, old chairs were left scattered on her ghetto street,
abandoned by Jews rounded up for transport.

But to where?
And she watched grief sit on the shoulders of women

whose legs were knitting-needle thin,
women who covered their eyes with their hands

and still recited blessings over candles lit to honor the Sabbath.
Once, she overheard someone say, “My heart was a sparrow—

now it’s caught in a vice.” Reading Dostoevsky, she was shocked
to learn he spent four whole years in a Siberian prison

with only the Bible as his friend. This gave her hope, so she could still fall in love
with a certain kind of star bright as a glowing złoty, a shiny coin

in the sky, even when she thought the moon was inside out.
Soldering bits of life together like scraps of steel, she and her sister Chana

believed it would be a sin to ever laugh again. But, they laughed, Lord,
they laughed and their hearts were brown wings.


From Aunt Bird (Four Way Press, 2024) by Yerra Sugarman. Copyright © 2024 by Yerra Sugarman. Reprinted with the permission of the author.