In the mourner’s month, September, 1942
as mothers broke their water
on freight trains
that snuffed the air from the living.
Jews, in the hamlet of Osmolica,
collected a multitude of good acts and sins
and piled them high as sacrament in a wood shack.
City-reared Jews, tailor-thrift Jews,
tame and hungry shtetl Jews
fasting to the letter of the law,
wrung their hands in fever prayer,
tore their hair and pummeled walls,
until their Maker could taste blood.
Save us, Gott, they cried in Yiddish,
mother tongue culled from the pure strain of their tormentors.
Reboyne Sheloylem, forgive us,
they paid homage in Hebrew.
Seal us from harm in the Book of Life.
Which language did God favor behind the gates of the Righteous?
Whose voice did he hear?
Except that of a child who looked on in abject terror
and in her duel with God,
stepped from the burning bush
to his seeming indifference.