Over rooftops and forests, rivers, domes
and the belfries of Vilna, the magic carpet
in my mind flies to a small maze
of buildings where the ghettos used to be.
Near the river flats, and that green bridge
Milosz writes about in a poem — the bridge
where my mother was almost arrested
for being Jewish. Near those cobblestones
where she stepped from street to sidewalk,
carefully slipping off her star jacket
to walk free into the forests of her girlhood
filled with mushrooms and blueberries,
and the magic of hiding to emerge transformed:
peasant princess with a golden cross at her throat,
an amulet of Catholic prayers, a spell and curse:
first to live, then live on with memories
of black forests and the frozen Neris River that runs
in incomplete silence through our Vilna. Every time
someone asks if I’m a Jew, I hold my breath.
Patchouli oil and the scent of your travel hair,
our smaller days middle-aged and measured
by hotel soaps that come in gold foil
wrappers like they’re something special.
You say one European city is like another.
Scientists say somewhere in space
exist colors we’ve never seen.
When we make love in the hotel room
in Prague, I close my eyes
and try to think about you instead of
those colors and if we’ll see them
like some kind of reward when we die.
Yesterday we went to Kafka’s house.
He died of starvation in a hospital before
intravenous feeding was invented,
not in a concentration camp or ghetto
like his sisters Ottla, Elli, and Valli.
At the breakfast buffet today
I took extra bread and cheese
to make sandwiches for lunch.
I wasn’t hungry and slipping
them in a plastic bag felt like stealing.
I surprised myself with petty satisfaction.
I thought about Kafka and his sisters
as we ate the sandwiches sitting on the steps
of St. Giles Church. Inside, baroque gold angels
bored with God, cavort half-nude in gilded heavens
where they hoard their gold and ignore us.