Monday 9 January 2023

Five Poems by Shelly Blankman


The Villain 


She didn’t know when she boarded,                                                                                                                                                                         

the villain would be freedom —

that charred children and their makeshift

toys left behind as kindle were not the end


of one tragedy, but the beginning of a new one –

on a boat jammed with neighbours vomiting,

she in a war-torn dress stitched lovingly 

by her mother. She didn’t know she’d sleep


standing, if she could sleep at all, her shoes

soaked in strangers’ urine. She didn’t know

the sight of seagulls would not mean the shore

of freedom. Or her eyelids would be pinned


back to check for disease that would end

her journey to new beginnings. And she didn’t

know that burning numbers in her arm was not

the only way of branding as a Jew. 


She didn’t know, 

how could she know,

the villain would be freedom?





Winters have melted into springs,

Seasons have come and gone

since you were afraid

you’d be left behind in ashes.

You never saw us squirm as you told

tale after tale, the same ones, the same 

words as annoying on young ears 

as the whooshing of corduroy.

Stories of coal trucks, ice wagons,  

and the time you almost swallowed

paper. And yes, we rolled our eyes.  

You never knew, so fearful were you

of fading in time like sun­-bleached

leather. You never saw the colours you lived,

heard your laughter echo, realized lessons

you taught, or tracked the tears you dried.

But you live. You live in the way 

your grandson pours capers like pepper

on everything he eats. You live when I close 

my cabinet door you made from scratch, 

or try to turn on the light switch you fixed

that still doesn’t work. Each time a sparrow

lands on the fence you built one steamy summer, 

you live. You live in my dreams, sitting at my table,

dapper,  dressed in black suit and tie, your

face beaming – only to disappear again.

I think of you when I’m sick, when I’m proud,

when I draw, when I fight for what’s right – 

wishing I could see your smile,

hear your raucous laugh, 

one more time.


Remembering Freya

She was named Freya, after the Norse goddess

of love and beauty. A walrus swimming along

the shores of Norway, soon the darling adored

by droves of visitors who flocked to see her, flashing

cameras like paparazzi while she sunbathed on yachts

that crushed like toothpicks beneath her massive weight.

But such beauty is fractured through the lens of humans

when stardom swallows its survival. Some threw rocks 

at her to get her attention. Others tried to bathe her. 

Anything to capture her beauty. They ignored signs

to stay away from the water’s edge. Their fun

was her stress. They loved her for her little pink nose,

bristled whiskers, and cinnamon skin that shone in the sun. 

In the end, they loved her to death. Freya was euthanized.

Not because she was ill, but to protect the humans tormenting

her. And they weren’t the only ones responsible for her death.

We all are. Walruses thrive on sea ice. So do their prey, a virtual

buffet of seafood – molluscs, shrimp, crab, clams, and mussels.

When sea ice melts, sea life dies, and Freya sought food closer

to shore. Human efforts to combat climate change could

not come fast enough for innocent victims like Freya. 

We all feel the crushing pain of the effects of climate change.

Floods. Pest infestations. Blackouts. Food and fresh water shortages. 

A dead walrus is soon forgotten.

The Dark Window

She used to sit by her window,

soak in the light, make pictures

out of clouds. This was the life of

a woman ravaged by Alzheimer’s. 

I’d spend the afternoons with her,

sipping tea. She’d speak scraps of

sentences, punctuating them with

clinks of her spoon against the cup,

her tea long turned cold. The sun’s

glow would soon soothe her 

into silence, her head tilted back,

her lips turned upward into a slight

smile as she’d drift into sleep. Her

window is dark now. No clouds to count

or form pictures. She lies in bed, her

eyes open, but she stares through me.

Alzheimer’s has taken away her window

to the world, leaving her to die in the dark.


How do you dam the flow of anti-Semitic tropes

that continues to contaminate the culture? How

do you explain that all of those Jews aren’t rich

or cheap, don’t own Hollywood or banks? Or calling

one Jew a kike or dirty Jew offends all Jews?

The litany of tropes has seeped into the well of sports,

politics, education, religion, and media – every pathway

to the public. Some say it depends on where you live.

It doesn’t. Others say phrases like getting Jewed are

no big deal – that they are just words. They are not

just words. They are phrases that spit hatred, ignorance,

and fear. They are words that can lead to a college student

like me getting thrown out of a dorm because her father

doesn’t want his daughter sharing a room with that Jew

Or a friend’s mother asks why a Jew doctor would help

her ill son when no other doctor would. My own mother

was told to stand in front of her sixth-grade class to show

what a Jew nose looked like. That was in 1942. In 1963

my teacher told a joke to the class: Which burns in the oven

faster – a Jew or a loaf of bread? In the 1990s, I watched

an Easter play, featuring senior students wearing Groucho 

Marx masks mocking Jews in thick Barbra Streisand accents

to the tune of an audience laughing and clapping wildly.

The tides of anti-Semitism continue to flow unfiltered. 

Tropes run off the tongue smooth as butter. 

How do we drain the well of ignorance

when no one cares about the poison?

Shelly Blankman and her husband, Jon, live in Columbia, Maryland. Their two sons, Richard and Joshua, live in New York and Texas, respectively. Jon and Shelly have filled their empty nest with 3 cat rescues and a foster dog. Following careers in journalism, public relations, and copy editing, Shelly  now devotes time to making memory books, cards, and writing poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, Verse-Virtual, and Muddy River Poetry Review, among other publications. Richard and Joshua surprised her by publishing her first book of poetry, Pumpkinhead.

1 comment:

  1. Such beautiful crafted,moveing poems.thankyou


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