Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview
 download audio

Reading Bruno Schulz on Rosh Hashanah
I must first return to dust, before I can say I am dust.
I must first rise into the air, before I can say I’m flying.

—Yang Jian

With Emmy Raviv, an Israeli singer and songwriter.

I Tekiah
In one blast, a man answers with all he has,
his barrel chest outlined against
an everlasting light, a kiss to a ram’s horn
and we are called by that guttural song
—who shall live by fire or sword,
mountains that still dance,
and us, our feet together, bowing,
chanting, churning, hearing a voice
that calls us to our desert roots,
fire to ashes, and ashes to earth
a man standing alone on a corner with nothing
but a small loaf of sawdust in his pocket,
asks himself, do we all live
to burn the things we love most?
A question formed in this scratched language, this sand
in my cupped hands, trickling through my fingers—
I wash my face in its gravel-sound, let
it skim me over the desert where we were born
in forty years of walking, born and reborn,
subdividing and creating, gathering sparks
that flicker, fly, ignite, a wind
that spins me into a funnel dance,
a new mind found in this long day, a new life
inside me, and this sound of sand,
pushed by wind, pushed by song,
a shofar cry that rises like a single shot echoes,
like a flock of cranes formed in the heart
of a peace sign and grazing the tops of trees,
spiraling into an open sky, tilting me
toward the face of God
with the smallest prayer:
next year,next year,
next year.

II Shvarim
Later the Thursday was always called Black,
so many yellow-starred and starved bodies
cluttering the streets, hunted then abandoned.

Schulz walking through the ghetto
in the town where he was born,
the town that held him like a cradle,

the bread in his pocket
more mud than food, sawdust
and water, pasty as molding clay.

Schulz, the property of SS Hauptscharführer
Felix Landau, a man whose sneer
covered Drohobycz like a blackout curtain.

Schulz, who held false papers stuffed
in a dresser drawer like the key
to a brothel, tempting, but never touched.

Schulz, who turned his face that morning
to the November mist the way a bloom
faces the sun, blind to bodies or puddles,

because God laid His hand
on Schulz while he slept,
while flickers flared across his eyelids,

and he thought only of the Messiah:
the pulpy sweetness
of a fresh apricot, cracked in half

and rising over a city.
Sparks that fly through his mind
with the strength of a summer storm—

a golden childhood,
which is, of course,
the Messiah.

So who cares that SS Officer
Karl Gunther always had bad teeth,
or that he found comfort

in the hands of a Jew,
a dentist. No one cares. It only matters
that the dentist was Gunther’s Jew. His.

And it matters
that when Landau broke a tooth
he went to Gunther’s Jewish dentist

and when for the third time
Landau flinched and the Jew uttered
a soft curse under his breath,

Landau unholstered his gun
and shot that dentist cleanly
through the eye.

In the end
it only ever matters
that when Gunther heard his Jew was dead

he found Schulz on the corner
of this street or that and raised
his Luger like a helmeted hawk.

Landau kills my Jew
I will kill his Jew,

and as easy as breaking an apricot in two
or merely dispatching a bird into an open sky
he shot Schulz just above his left ear,

and the myth was shattered and the world was shattered
and the sparks that slipped from Schulz’s wounds
fell like glass left to glisten in the lingering light,

which is to say, scattered
from the age of genius, poured from his ruptured skull
spilling into the muddy puddles near his head.

How they glistened there
with no one to notice
not the hunters nor the hunted,

not the child who reached for the bread
before he kissed his teacher’s lips
nor the friend who came in darkness

to gather the body and return it to the dust.
No one to notice how the body later softened,
liquefied, dissolved back into the earth.

III T’ruah
Hold me, hold me—

hold my legs together, staunch
each surge, every secretion,

this current that grips me
as the petals of my body open

and close over hers. Please God. Please.
What is this language, this thread

of red, this leak of life imprinted
on my thigh, a scarlet tattoo? Please.

My head fills with ink, my body
with the dredges of the night;

they swim in me still.

Are You listening?
Lay with me. Moon your hand across

my dreams, go ahead—dance,
dance the stars out of the sky. Let

it be tomorrow and she
still inside me.


Where am I? Has night become day?
I touch the cruelty of a new sun, here,

curled on a bathroom floor, a broken
ring around the life

that has slipped from me.

is perfect—a simple gift
in this pool

of blood, no bigger
than my palm, toes and fingers,

translucent but ten,
intact. Daughter

of a thousand fragments
their rainbow shards

filling me, falling
into my womb. In this moment I am

Mother. Please. Breathe
into her. Set your lips over hers and breathe:

breathe her your honey, breathe her your milk,
set yourself under her tongue.Please.


Where am I? Hardtack and water, empty
day, a broken ring—

I’ll count to ten, but
still, this bathroom is empty,

breathless, moments
move by on heavy feet, God,

I am the bride,
waiting; I am under a dark

canopy; bundled myrrh between my breasts,
hands hennaed but, truth: I did not pray

for us; I didn’t pray at all.
I lay here on linoleum, fasted,

even as my body filled
with burn. Please.

I’ll sing now the hymns
no one has ever heard. God,

I will offer you up her
translucent toes, her teeth buds,

the cascade of her future curls. I ache
to catch your flames,

their energy and their rage,
drop some of those burning

worlds on my tongue—
(Those, too, I can smother on a cold floor.)

Make room for us and our animal
existence. I will

kneel here on the pitted
earth, fit every shard

back together,
but tell me, God—

where do I put the small shoes
of my unborn children?

IV Tekiah Gedola
Here a shul bathroom, like another room remembered—
water now cupped in two hands, held to my face,
melting the salt and sand finally from my eyes.
At the shofar blast I lift my head, a deer in darkness
startled alive. Today, even the keruvim
have given up androgyny, turned themselves to two
sexes, entwined, wings circled forward to shield and comfort
each other, for you are beloved before Hashem—
Yes, you—the woman, and it was today
He told Sarah she will have a son, nurse him
well from a wrinkled tit, Hannah mumbling on the stairs,
and Rachel weeping, kneeling, forehead to dust,
aleinu li’shabei-ach l’adon hakol,
all gone and she’s alone in a tomb. The womb
prepares. The candles are lit. We hold all that is sacred
in our palm of air, strike our own thigh,
then buck and slap together, nothing on our minds
but the pleasure that hides behind the walls, scratching,
scratching us into a moment of sparks,
where new worlds are really born. Cells
divide as someone soft and sacred
grows round. This is where we start over.
Schulz telling stories in a classroom, late nights
writing, tossing embers on a page with abandon,
or later in a library deciding which beloved books to burn.
My body here, heavy, preparing to start again.
The Messiah handed to a stranger and lost forever
in one moment on a street corner. We all begin
and we all end, we murmur over the desert,
like the sand itself whispers before the arrival
of dew, of the smallest prayer: maybe
next year, next year in Jerusalem.  

return to top