THE JEWISH CEMETERY, LENINGRAD 1986
Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
Dragged among peoples and waters, [I’ve journeyed]
Through many lands and many peoples I have come
with many aims and many destinations,
but now I have reached this last of my goals
within these borders:
to pay you, unknown kinsman,
what little respect
you can yet be paid.
The floods of April have passed, the coats returned to closets,
the air is crisp and the nights are short,
here in this northern town.
It is late afternoon when I reach these few acres
set aside for the bones of my kin.
But how shall I know which bones belong to which of my kin?
(Does it make any difference?)
There are no paths here. Few stones. Almost no dry land.
The Russian graves across the street
stand, erect and tended, row by row, grass well mowed
and names distinct, paths maintained and flowers lately strewn.
Here the graves lie overwhelmed with mud
through which a few grey corners dare to show.
Some living Jews, armed with boots and cars,
tell me I cannot go and search for Shmuel Katz.
They go instead, but all is water.
Two days straight they search.
No such name is left.
If that name was once engraved in stone,
the stone has been destroyed
or else the carving has eroded.
Bones among bones cannot be distinguished.
Marshland offers much
Those who remember you
have forgotten ‘El malai rahamim.
We who know the prayer
have no sign by which to remember you
or even to know that you existed.
No flowers in this mud and marshland.
The living men in boots ask how I like their country.
“I am a Jew,” I answer.
“What can I think?”
Shmuel: May you nestle beneath Shekhina’s wings.
I cannot drain this land.
I cannot make your resting place whole.
Your bones will feed worms
and the worms will feed birds
and the birds, perhaps, will fly
through many lands and many peoples
bearing your prayer in their beaks.
By Nina Judith Katz
I am a writer and herbalist, among other professions. I have most recently published poetry on the Rising Phoenix site. My articles about herbalism appear regularly in Natural Herbal Living Magazine.