BY LAUREN SCHLESINGER
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.