Children at Play
Because they have no guns among their toys,
they improvise with sticks. Rocks become bombs;
handfuls of dirt, choking smoke.
The oldest pretends he is the German.
His sister plays the Jew. Their porch is the camp
from which there’s no escape.
“I’m tired of being the Jew,” she complains.
“I want to torture you for awhile.”
“Not yet,” he says. “You haven’t been gassed.”
“It’s your turn to die,” she claims.
“I don’t want to be a Jew anymore.”
She throws her yellow star onto the ground
and folds her arms against her chest.
“Nazi,” she insists.
“Stupid Jew,” he stews
and she is moved to tears.
They wonder how their mother
and their father live together:
the ice blonde, blue-eyed shiksa
and the dark-haired, driven Jew;
hat should defy attraction.
“Their families must have hated each other,”
the boy decides. “Her side
probably murdered his.”
Growing a New Skin
Desires burn and the bottoms of my teen son’s feet now peel
in strips of moist white flap. His new skin
comes in pink and taut, smooth as a salamander’s.
Hair sprouts about his face and chest, under his arms.
His fair, proud jaw projects beyond his years,
the deep cleft splitting chin.
While he’s catching up to those puppy’s feet,
his boyish voice has deepened too
so callers will mistake us on the phone. Emotions
grow as fast as bones. New light attaches to the body.
Seeking clarity in shadows
as he scans the length of street,
scarf loosely wound around
his neck, hands wrapped
around a glass of tea,
he contemplates her image
and won’t settle for a silhouette,
throws the window open wide—
his racing heart cannot contain
what has been locked inside.
I grew sick at the sight of rare hamburger, fatty steak or bloody roast, refused to watch my grandmother suck flanken bones or chicken feet. The year I gained a sense of nascent independence, I often walked in late to eat. Once I set foot in the foyer, I faced my parents’ wrath: Did you forget about dinner? All they could talk about was food: the shopping list for the coming week, the menu for each meal. And once the lecture finally ended, my mother brought my plate of “shoe leather” to the table. But shoe leather was more prize than punishment. (Well done, dried out—I could manage.) In general, I received nothing but complaints about the way I ate. I was as thin as a stick and sick every other week, with blood tests just as often. Although I ate—there was little choice—it was never enough to please my smothering mother. Never enough flesh. Never enough chicken. Never enough fish. Build him up, I have to build him up, my mother told her mah-jongg friends as they dissected all their children’s flaws—fishing for free advice from neighbors since there wasn’t a pediatrician in sight. Back flattened against the wall in the hallway shadows, I held my breath so as not to be discovered, listening through the drone of tiles. The doctor wants to wait a bit, but the tonsils will have to come out. The women continued pushing tiles, clattering and rattling against each other like swarming insects, to the center of the table. I imagined all the food I’d have to eat now and squeezed my fists. The tighter I squeezed and shut my eyes, the more well done the meat became until the image finally served up in my mind had burnt and shriveled to a blackened crisp, had shrunk almost to nothing.
remembering Pee Wee Rabinowitz
He was the only kid I knew who had a TV by his bed, like in a motel. His parents were always gone, either working or playing cards, and never cared what he did so long as he let them sleep. Those summer nights he closed his door and stayed up watching movies until dawn. While the rest of us were out all morning playing ball, he slept. We finally dragged ourselves home for lunch, then headed back to the park again. On the way, the shade to his bedroom window still drawn, we tapped on his first floor window, then went around and knocked on the door, thinking we could convince him to join us. He answered in his pajamas, hair a mess, scratching his chest. Inside the house, it was as dark as a tomb, the shades drawn on every window. Suddenly there was a blinding light, the refrigerator opening, and in that light, our eyes growing wide, we saw him drinking cold flat soda from a half-empty bottle, alternately stuffing chocolate cake into his mouth.
Brooklyn-born Steven Sher (aka Shlomo Yashar) made aliyah to Israel in 2012. He is the author of 15 books including, most recently, Uncharted Waters (New Feral Press, 2017), The House of Washing Hands (Pecan Grove Press, 2014) and Grazing on Stars: Selected Poems (Presa Press, 2012). Since the 1970s his writing has appeared in hundreds of publications worldwide. Recent appearances range from Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women to The Second Genesis: an Anthology of Contemporary World Poetry and New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting The Holocaust (due in 2019 from Vallentine Mitchell, London). His work has been featured by Symphony Space (Selected Shorts) and Poetry In Motion, and was an Oregon Book Awards finalist. This past November (2018) he received the Glenna Luschei Distinguished Poet Award and was featured at the 35th annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival in California. He has also taught at many universities/workshops since the 1970s and has served as an editor or consultant across the print media/publishing/literary spectrum. Check out steven-sher-poetry.wixsite.com/writing to learn more.