Sometimes numbers become labels for particular events. When I was growing up, all of us knew 1492 as a label for the discovery of America. And 1941 recognized Pearl Harbor. The following selection from a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) reminds us of the awful importance of 6 million.
While mentioning this poem of witness and remembering, I want also to remind you of the very special Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, to held in Washington, DC, March
27-30, 2014. (Early-bird registration ends on Valentine's Day, February
14th at midnight.) Hope to see you there.
Here, below, I offer Stanza 6 (of seven stanzas) of Amichai's poem, "I Wasn’t One of the Six Million: And What Is My Life Span? Open Closed Open." The complete poem is available at poetryfoundation.org and in Amichai's collection Open Closed Open, translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld (Harcourt, 2000).
from I Wasn’t One of the Six Million:
And What Is My Life Span?
Open Closed Open by Yehuda Amichai
I wasn’t one of the six million who died in the Shoah,
I wasn’t even among the survivors.
And I wasn’t one of the six hundred thousand who went out of Egypt.
I came to the Promised Land by sea.
No, I was not in that number, though I still have the fire and the smoke
within me, pillars of fire and pillars of smoke that guide me
by night and by day. I still have inside me the mad search
for emergency exits, for soft places, for the nakedness
of the land, for the escape into weakness and hope,
I still have within me the lust to search for living water
with quiet talk to the rock or with frenzied blows.
Afterwards, silence: no questions, no answers.
Jewish history and world history
grind me between them like two grindstones, sometimes
to a powder. And the solar year and the lunar year
get ahead of each other or fall behind,
leaping, they set my life in perpetual motion.
Sometimes I fall into the gap between them to hide,
or to sink all the way down.
The complete text for Amichai's poem is found here at poetryfoundation.org and on my shelf in his collection Open Closed Open.
And, for those of you who missed Monday's poetry reading at Cafe Muse -- featuring Stephanie Strickland and me -- here is a blog posting by Karren Alenier that tells a bit about that event.