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Unwritten Elegy for Krakow’s Jews

“My family lived here for 500 years”—Dr. M.S.

But Joseph Street is the saddest, spare as a new moon,
not a single tree though not without charm,
the dark charm of a province, of parting, a quiet burial;
in the evening shadows gather here from every neighborhood,
and even some brought by trains from nearby towns.
Joseph was the Lord’s favorite, but his street knew no happiness,
no pharaoh distinguished it, its dreams were sorrowful, its years were lean.

In the Church of Corpus Christi I lit candles for my dead,
who live far off—I don’t know where
—and I sense they warm themselves in the red flame too,
like the homeless by a fire when the first snow falls.
I walk the paths of Kazimierz and think of those who are missing.
I know that the eyes of the missing are like water and can’t
be seen—you can only drown in them.

To hear footsteps in the evening—and see no one.
They walk on, although there’s no one here, the tread of women in boots
shod with iron, beside the hangman’s quiet, almost tender steps.
What is it? As if black memory moves
above the city, like a comet withdrawing from the stratosphere.

--Translated by Clare Cavanagh.

This poem originally ran in the April 28, 2011, issue of the magazine.

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