FOUND in an old notebook from the Dodge Poetry Festival 2006: Sitting With the Dead, a poem I wrote for Laure-Anne Bosselaar. I have been very sad about the loss of this poem after I sent it to Laure-Anne in '06. I taught myself to decide it was lost for a reason. I wrote a response poem to it, hoping to honor the spirit of the original. I learned a lesson about backing up my work.
But today comes this little red notebook after so many years. 8 to be exact, my favorite number. I opened the notebook and there, on page one, the poem I lost. So I share with you this poem in its original state plus the 2nd poem.
This is the original:
Sitting With the Dead
In the village church,
the poet reads about Bruges,
how Yochkemke stepped on a mine
in Israel. The only way it was
him for sure was the intact arm
with numbers 743326, numbers
he was given as a baby,
his family tagged like cattle.
The poet does not write mine
except to claim him
as her friend, boy of bells
and marbles with green hearts.
She mentions his talent for whistling
through the hole in his tongue,
how he ran as fast as he could
and kissed her once for luck.
In the churchyard, after,
I sit with the dead, read poems
to them, boys and girls I never knew
living now beyond tipped granite
doors that open on a place
of untold numbers
of unnumbered souls, souls
who would not dare to name God.
And there it is: that which was lost has been found.
Here is the 2nd poem written last year (2013) to try and reconstruct or at least honor the original:
Lost: Sitting With the Dead
— again for Laure-Anne
In the village chapel, the poet
spoke about love for the dead
how it increases, how like sadness
for what's done in war, she told of all
the lost loves she's kissed goodbye
in train stations, in churchyards.
Now I'm leaning
against the tombstone,
of someone I never knew —
dead tired from walking all day.
I write of Yochemke,
punched like paper by the Nazis.
I write a poem of holes and loss,read it aloud to those who
can no longer read.
My tongue dries
in the hot afternoon,
my pen runs out, stops
at the final word, shame.
Years later the poem is lost,
who stepped on a mine in Israel.
Sitting With the Dead
will haunt me as the boy
with the hole in his tongue.