Elegy for the Jewish Villages

Edward Hirsch

The Jewish villages in Poland are gone now—
Hrubieszrow, Karczew, Brody, Falenica . . .
There are no Sabbath candles lit in the windows,
no chanting comes from the wooden synagogues.

The Jewish villages in Poland have vanished
and so I walked through a graveyard without graves.
It must have been hard work to clean up after the war:
someone must have sprinkled sand over the blood,
swept away footprints, and whitewashed the walls
with bluish lime. Someone must have fumigated
the streets, the way you do after a plague.

One moon glitters here—cold, pale, alien.
I stood in the dark countryside in summer, but
I could never find the two golden moons of Chagall
glittering outside the town when the night lights up.
Those moons are orbiting another planet now.

Gone are the towns where the shoemaker was a poet,
the watchmaker a philosopher, the barber a troubadour.

Gone are the villages where the wind joined Biblical songs
with Polish tunes, where old Jews stood in the shade
of cherry trees and longed for the holy walls of Jerusalem.

Gone now are the hamlets that passed away
like a shadow that falls between our words.

I am bringing you home the story of a world—
Hrubieszrow, Karczew, Brody, Falenica . . .
Come close and listen to this song—
the Jewish villages in Poland are gone now—
from another one of the saddest nations on earth.

My Father’s Track and Field Medal, 1932

Edward Hirsch

Cup the tarnished metal in your palm.
Look closely and you’ll see a squirrel
scampering up a beech-wood in the forest.
You’ll see a cardinal flaming in the branches.
You’ll see a fleet-footed antelope racing
through the woods ahead of the hunters.