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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Lynne Shapiro

Ligonines Street, Vilnius

Who slept in this attic before me,
how many in line for their lives?
I'll retrace their steps tomorrow,
peer down into their mass grave,
travel the short distance to Ponar Forest.

But now it's twilight in my room.
The clatter of silverware and platters.
Giggles. Footsteps on cobblestones.
Swifts chatter and call to one another,
loop clouds, darkening coverlets for sleepyheads.

The insects that began their songs at dusk
are suddenly absent -
I remember the grasshopper beside me
after a nap, back home, three limbs gone,
shed from one side of its tiny body
in instinctual escape. Still alive.

At Ponar, beneath the towering pines, how many
mothers stepped from skirts and slips, shoes
and stockings to silently relinquish their babies
to still-warm piles of clothing
so to face the pit's black edge
with empty arms and a heart still beating
with a modicum of hope.


Budding roses burst through the window screen,
anchored themselves
in the darkened room above his head.
My grandfather, propped in his chair,
entered a pantomime.
Without waking, he unfurled
thread from a spool, cut it with his teeth,
threaded a needle, pulled taut
his dance partner.
Then he pinched tobacco
from a pouch, packed a pipe, lit a match,
drew on the mouthpiece of his turbaned meerschaum
without waking.
He inhaled; the room rose and fell,
an exchange of air,
the scent of loved ones.
Mingled with exhalations, remembrances:
the pressure cooker
the meat grinder
Sunday sweetbreads, forshpeiz
Grandma's polka-dot dress
her pocketbook with Chiclets and
lipstick-smeared white knit gloves
the three sailor boys gone to war
his sisters lost to smoke
the only girl, my mother,
the middle room where Bernie was born
opera on the radio
the Yiddish Forverts
On the mantel, a photo:
He's dancing with my grandmother,
they face one another
hands held high
poised to cross the dance floor
for the next fifty years.

excerpt from My Grandfather's Sister's Great-Great Grandson's Wedding, Borough Park, Brooklyn

He put down hammer and nails,
finished laying the banquet floor
in time for his wedding.
On it, he stands, a boy, a man,
in prayer, with eyes closed
until the breaking of glass.

His father takes his white wedding shirt
within his fingers, works the buttons
one by one, tenderly,
wraps the wide black cloth round
and round and round
his son's birth line.

The groom's heart enters
the black coat, his soul the hat;
he is readied to
walk within the fathers'
guiding light to the huppah.

The bride traces
the belt's centrifugal course,
walks round and round the groom
to stand beside him
on the ground he laid,
becoming herself a belt,
the way story surrounds story
in the Talmud,
the way everything blooms
from the inside out.