Yom Kippur evening and three stars on the rise.
My people go to schul to atone,
but it’s he who has the greater debt to liquidate.
He, who has watched and never wept,
who has never wept and only gazed,
who has gazed and so condoned.
If I humbled myself to him for my little sins
here, in his house, the shofar would howl
in my ears like animals led to slaughter.
What have I done that I should atone?
Whom have I wounded, offended or betrayed
as he has betrayed his people?
This night they rise before me
from their anonymous graves, looking back
from the moment of their death.
They stand naked in frozen mud and sharp ice.
Their blue-white bodies glow.
They gaze back at their piled clothes and shoes.
They huddle for what warmth they can share.
Their spider hands cover their naked sex,
as if modesty could stop bullets.
Mothers gather children to their flanks.
Fathers stand in front of mothers and children
as if love could stop bullets.
They have grubbed a long shallow grave with hands and sticks
in the same earth they might have sowed in spring, a place
where they might have reaped at harvest-time.
The maschinengewehr sounds like the sky tearing open.
They grow sudden aprons and capes of blood.
They topple into the open earth.
Dirt bulldozed over their bodies heaves and moans.
Crimson mud fills their mouths and nostrils and eyes.
Then quiet blankets a crop that will never bloom.
If spring birds’ first songs never sounded here, it would not have been enough.
If green buds withered and died in this place, it would not have been enough.
If the streams of April melt turned toxic, it would not have been enough.
If this gazing god had heard his people’s prayers,
if he had sown Auschwitz and Dachau
with salt and ashes, it would not have been enough.
If he had burned and scarred the comfortable persons who turned away,
if they had been left diseased or maimed and bleeding,
convulsing in some filthy ditch, it would not have been enough.
This Yom Kippur eve I will dream of bones and ashes
strewn under his indifferent gaze,
blank and blind as the moon’s milky eye.
It’s a bad bargain, this atonement he requires,
he who witnesses love and slaughter
and never knows the difference.
- Dayenu: Hebrew. Rough translation “It would have been enough.”