Back to Issue Twenty-Eight.


Semifinalist for the 2019 Gregory Djanikian Scholars Program

Seders are a death-pain
in the stomach because each item needs
to be blessed. The holiday is a relay


of courses set to tunes that mislead me
into thinking I can eat
soon. Really it’s just the Hebrew


that all sounds the same to the incomplete
ear of a Jew-slash-Lutheran.
The grace notes that repeat


themselves in the prayers of Judaism
are dulcet phantoms
of the extra notes that Luther


exiled from hymns.
Different songs fuse in my mind
along with the consonantal sting


of knowing that I could find
relatives dying with distinction
behind opposing lines. I could find


relatives etching extinction
into the shoulders
of relations that would later pile


into boulders of bones.
When I do not know
what the prayer could be about,


the Holocaust is where my mind goes
because the Holocaust
and I were both irreversibly sewed,


writhing two opposites to one thread.


Under the table, I wear a thimble.
One that one would never guess
would look like this.


On my finger, four horses tread
weightless as ghosts, and quiver
in the cold along the scalloped edge


etched in untarnished silver.
It is this carousel-thimble
that I play with, like a child, at each Seder


knowing it circumscribed
my Savta’s finger at her last Seder
before she fled Germany for Israel.


Only months before war in the red
of night, her parents woke her,
told the child there was a wedding


and they wanted her
to wear her best dress, to bring one doll.
The thimble became a spur


hidden under the lace of her sock.
And she slept through a train, through glares,
taxis, buses, and awoke


being rocked by the sea.
Her father kept giving men money.
Her mother looked scared.


She thought of the party,
remembered the thimble she had brought
for the bride. When she could see


they were running from being caught,
she cried for her friends,
her dolls. And she forgot


the horses penned inside her outfit.
These horses would come to stand
for friends that were driven


to work for their death at Auschwitz.
Missing them, she made
the horses gallop their ghost dance


while she prayed
and the dance reminds me
of the collections of zoo animals preyed


upon by scientists for the Nazis.
With the smoke of people in the sky,
for the sport of it, they killed beasts


and hunted to find peculiar species alive.
Any animal was a Nazi whore
if she could breed


the extinct beasts of myths into superior
repeats to support the Third Reich.
They tried to back-breed and restore


tarpans: wild horses with grey
stripes on their legs, so fast
and able to survive unlike


any creature. Even running glassed
by ice, they sharpened air between their teeth.
Disdain for tame beings sat


at the core of their strength
and solidified their meaning.
On their hind legs, they would meet


beating the shins of another tarpan
with blows that dented bone and spurred
them to fight like machines.


The Nazis could never procure
a tarpan but the spirit
of these horses was resurrected


and spawned by the prisoners. Committed
to live, to work, to absorb pain,
all they needed most was a pit


in order to remain
because when the world finds you
to be the savage or the refrain


that is not needed, the Jew,
the hybrid obscurity:
a one-from-two, or the too true


exhibit of impurity,
you crawl into a thimble to open wide.
Into your own depths, you flee.

Lauren Schlesinger

Lauren Schlesinger is a poet who lives and writes in Chicago. She earned a BA with Honors in poetry from Northwestern University, an MSED from Northwestern University, and an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington in Seattle. In the past, Lauren was a recipient of the Northwestern University Alumnae Graduate Fellowship, was awarded the Academy of American Poets’ Jean Aloe Meyer Prize, and was a finalist in 2009 for the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Fellowship. She teaches creative writing and English literature classes outside of Chicago.


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