For years I didn't say much
about being Jewish. My surname's
pronounced Whittaker. My father
changed his name from Abraham
to Andy, didn't have children
till Hitler was dead. When I sing
a few Hebrew songs at music camp,
the other Jew in the room says almost
tenderly, No one does this. It's been
hidden. Yes, dispelled
like smoke from certain kilns,
mass graves near Vilnius.
If I tell someone and they say,
Oh, you don't look Jewish....
Or half-jokingly: I didn't know
they let any Jews into Bellingham....
Or: I'm tired of hearing
about the Holocaust....
I can't misspell our streets
like damp cigars in someone
else's teeth, can't dispel
our past, as if it weren't
this porous shield—sun on bits
of mica, a certain vacant lot
near Sheepshead Bay,
where a gang of four
strips a boy, sits him
down in an armchair, burrs
stuck to the boy's wrists,
so their sickle eyes
get to revise the kid a little,
see if he's American
or if he's been circumcised.
In Cracow, once, there were wells
with no eyelids, lakes like Gretel's
oven, where almost no one
muttered, My error will abide
with me and spend the night.
Richard Widerkehr earned his M.A. from Columbia University and won two Hopwood first
prizes for poetry at the University of Michigan. He has two book-length collections of
poems: The Way Home (Plain View Press) and Her Story of Fire (Egress Studio Press), along
with two chapbooks. Tarragon Books published his novel, Sedimental Journey, about a
geologist in love with a fictional character. Recent work has appeared in Rattle, Floating
Bridge Review, Gravel, Cirque, Crack The Spine, Jewish Literary Journal, Penumbra,
Sediments, and Salt River Review. Other poems are forthcoming in Measure, Nomad's
Choir, and Clay Bird Review. He's worked as a writing teacher and, later, as a case manager
with the mentally ill. He edits poetry for Shark Reef Review.