1957 [*]



PASSOVER 1986 [*]



We were slaves

to Pharaoh in Egypt,

we sang extempore –

each with a different tune

each with a different memory.

Born on the outer edge of war,

I envisioned only Cecil B. DeMille

and the myriads of extras drowned

behind a trick glass wall.

(No. That isn’t true.

Years before,

when we were in our old home

—flimsy and small—

I would fear

that when we opened the door for Elijah,

Hitler and his men would push in,

destroying all, but my consciousness.)

In the new house

with the massive cherry dining set

my father and I bought secondhand

and the flowered gilt dishes

my mother saved all year,

we were our own leaders.

Our guests leaned on their pillows

and admired the oversized turkey

(symbol I see now of America—

freedom and relief)

the tsimmis, the compote,

and all the extra courses—

fish, liver, soup—

they had only dreamed of

even before the war.

And while I focussed

on the Hagada drawings of Moses,

with his strong, Heston chin,

did my father

think of his years in prison?

Did my mother

recall the boat

that took them back

from the Promised Land to Danzig

on the eve Hitler came in?

On this night of nights

we sang together offkey

that once we were slaves

that now we are free



My brother leads the seder, and we

become as little children

asking, reciting, doing our shtik

in turn around the room.

I stretch out my neck, turning a bit

from the table, wishing even the liver,

matzo balls, all the afikoman

eaten, digested, the Israelites freed

As a child

I'd refuse to read

except for the chant of the goat song.

Not the wicked son

who asks what does all this


to you

But the fifth one

who must get up from table

walk out the door

when Eliyahu comes in,

just for a breath

of fresh air

Go on without me

but consider me there



All week he has been urged

to learn the verses and the tune—

why do we have to do

all these strange things tonight.

As if he cares, his mind

on Tetrus and other video games.

And the man in charge now rejoins

"We were slaves in the land

of Egypt" and this explains

nothing at all.

This is the way

the evening resumes,

the freedmen droning

by the book, on and on

of freedom, their stomachs

rumbling remembering the food

from last year, the hostess

bringing water for the guests

to wash their hands. How many pages

until we get to discuss

what really matters

over chicken soup?

The order of the evening—a lesson

for slaves.

But there are two sorts

of disgruntled guests at the seder.

Only one thinks of the movie on tv,

the easy chair, the bread he wants to eat.

The other is complaining that the way

of this evening is not

the customs she learned

in her youth: the melodies

are weaker, the questions less planned.

"We should be talking about this,"

I try to say, but the words of the book

have their own inertia - it is so hard

to break the rhythm, to break away.

By the end of the evening

we are reluctant to rise up,

lean in our chairs waiting

to be led to our beds. Even

the little boy has forgotten

the freedom of video games.



(from Ignorant Armies)


The old woman disappeared

when Isaac went off with his father

I would not let my son

be sacrificed so

without a fight

a basket in the bullrushes