Summer Reading :: In Memory of Elie Wiesel

Auschwitz-Birkenau-Börner

I placed a copy of Night on my teenager’s desk.
Summer reading, I said.
You mean I have to read it?

Quick parenting decision – split-second judgment call.
No, I told her, not wanting to be the hand
that forces eyes open. But.

It’s a hard book but an important book. 
Back to the kitchen to finish cooking us dinner.
It will change your life, I called back.

Will she read it? Fourteen in a few months.
Also a Libra like she is, Elie Wiesel was fifteen
when he arrived at Auschwitz.

I was fifteen the summer I spent
in Spain. Only a few photos remain from that trip,
including a swastika on a brick wall in Toledo.

Sixteen when I first read Night.
Mark Gerstein’s Holocaust class, the one when
I dreamed of basements and lost babies.

In every generation, may there be movement.
“I marvel at the resilience of the Jewish people…
No other people has such an obsession with memory.”

And so I see myself
placing this paperback on her desk.
Resilience. Obsession. Memory. My people. Her people.

We all have to find our people
in this world. Maybe this is what I’m trying to say
to her without telling her a thing,

without sliding into parental lecture,
the kind she’s come to expect from me.
All that time I thought she was glazing over

until she did her final seventh-grade project
about why she’s a feminist.
That’s when I realized

she’s paying attention.
The book might sit there untouched
for months, or she may crack it open

and come to us in tears some July night,
scared or sad or both, asking why and how.
I worry sometimes that so many Buzzfeed headlines

without substance, click click click,
one awful story after another, kids growing up
with a Trump presidency an actual real thing

will have the opposite effect
and instead of galvanizing will numb
and dilute the impact of so much death and hatred.

Where is the balance between providing comfort
and not cocooning our children
inside privilege that perpetuates injustice?

I placed the book on her desk, then came here
to write a poem. To listen into the night,
the night with its millions of voices,

the voices that began climbing out my mouth
was I was her age, his age, this age,
in the age of awakening, the age of rage

and poetry and never forget and never again,
the age when I began choking on the voices
and losing my own,

the age of doing what I can as a Jewish mother
to make sure she knows that her voice
is both the most and least important,

both her sword and her mother line,
hers to toss back in time and throw to the night
to see what ghosts catch and return it

in the call and response that’s been
singing itself to sleep for centuries
and will keep doing so, unresting

until we’ve circled back to all the lives,
all the lives that couldn’t be saved the first time.
Waiting and waiting, in the world to come, for the living.

::

In Memory of Elie Wiesel, ז״ל
September 30, 1928 – July 2, 2016