Bob Schwartz

Category: Poetry

Wisdom Is Where You Find It

Wisdom Is Where You Find It

Wisdom is here
Where you find it
Collect everything
Discard everything
Still everything remains
One thousand and one sages
Advise you
Then disappear
Leaving you with empty shelves
And the world

Night Bird Still Awake

Night Bird Still Awake

Opening the window an inch
It is as if
That bird alone is
Bringing the night
Into the dark room
Or has the solo song
Taken me out?

Born Mothers

Born Mothers

For K, the MOAM

Those born
With a boundless heart
Give and suffer
Even as they sleep
Or don’t sleep
Vowing to make good better
Cruel less cruel
Children or none
All within reach
And the sound of her voice
Are hers.

© Bob Schwartz 2017

Barely Audible

Barely Audible

קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה

A still small voice
1 Kings 19:12

Hurricanes earthquakes
Fires in the brain
Awed but unable
To follow a thought
Or lose one.
Hear O hear
Minute stillness
Soft murmuring
Gentle whisper
Still small.

Note: “God will reveal himself not in storm or fire or the shaking of the mountain but in a small, barely audible sound. On Mount Carmel, God spoke through fire; here at Horeb, he speaks [to Elijah] in a more subtle language, for the deity is by no means limited to seismic manifestations.”
Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets, translation with commentary by Robert Alter

© Bob Schwartz 2017

Quilts

Quilts

Those who sew
The finer clothes
Worn and admired
For life lifting
Form and function
Honored for their hard won skill
Using needle and precious cloth.
My works are barely fashioned
From scraps sitting on a dusty shelf
Stuffed in an almost forgotten box.
Crude quilts not meant to do much
Or mean much
But nagging to be made.

© Bob Schwartz 2017

Moonstruck

Moonstruck

The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
Psalms 121:6

What harm can the moon do
By striking you?
Is it madness
The derivative cool light
Of a white satellite
Instead of the blinding broiling
Yellow star
That menaces you?
He neither slumbers nor sleeps
And neither do you
When one leaves
One arrives
Closed lids do not shade it
Right hand or left.

© Bob Schwartz 2017

Distance Zero

Distance Zero

Locate it where you might
Upper left of your brain
Around your heart
In your hands and feet
You won’t need GPS to find
The perpetual point
With a voice but no one name
Embodying it all
Willing to do nothing but remind you
Of the good things learned and to be learned
Keeping that other one at bay
Just by its presence and proximity
Which is right here now
At a distance of zero

© Bob Schwartz 2017

Dirt on the Rug

Dogen-zenji said, “Shoshaku jushaku.” Shaku generally means “mistake” or “wrong.” Shoshaku jushaku means “to succeed wrong with wrong,” or one continuous mistake. According to Dogen, one continuous mistake can also be Zen. A Zen master’s life could be said to be so many years of shoshaku jushaku.
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Dirt on the Rug

I don’t have to be careful any more
I’ve already knocked over the plant
That sat balanced on the table corner
Spilled dirt on the rug
It won’t happen again

© Bob Schwartz 2017

Spirit Accident

Spirit Accident

The chance of an asteroid
Hurtling toward earth and
Hitting it doesn’t hit
Even the misses are few.
Odds are better
A fragment hits
Leaving lasting spirit
But loose memory
Almost lapsed memory
Lingering.

Look at the assembly
Recognize the parts
And their provenance.
Once in the while
An early element
Arrives and sits down.
Good to see you.
And you.
It’s like it never left.

© Bob Schwartz 2017

U.S. Days of Remembrance, Poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Babi Yar

These are the official Holocaust Days of Remembrance in the U.S., coinciding with Yom Hashoah, the Day of Remembrance. The U.S. Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s week-long annual commemoration of the Holocaust.

In looking for a poem to include, I discovered that the great poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko died this month at the age of 84. This news did not receive the sort of coverage it deserved. If ever a poet lived the life of poetry as insurgent art, he did.

Yevtushenko also wrote one of the definitive poems about the Holocaust. From the Guardian:

Yevtushenko gained notoriety in the former Soviet Union while in his 20s, with poetry denouncing Joseph Stalin. He gained international acclaim as a young revolutionary with Babi Yar, an unflinching 1961 poem that told of the slaughter of nearly 34,000 Jews by the Nazis and denounced the antisemitism that had spread throughout the Soviet Union.

Until Babi Yar was published, the history of the massacre was shrouded in the fog of the cold war….

Yevtushenko said he wrote the poem after visiting the site of the mass killings in Kiev, Ukraine, and searching for something memorializing what happened there – a sign, a tombstone, some kind of historical marker – but finding nothing.

“I was so shocked,” he said. “I was absolutely shocked when I saw it, that people didn’t keep a memory about it.”

It took him two hours to write the poem that begins: “No monument stands over Babi Yar. A drop sheer as a crude gravestone. I am afraid.”

Babi Yar
Yevgeny Yevtushenko

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.
I am afraid.
Today I am as old in years
as all the Jewish people.
Now I seem to be
a Jew.
Here I plod through ancient Egypt.
Here I perish crucified on the cross,
and to this day I bear the scars of nails.
I seem to be
Dreyfus.
The Philistine
is both informer and judge.
I am behind bars.
Beset on every side.
Hounded,
spat on,
slandered.

Squealing, dainty ladies in flounced Brussels lace
stick their parasols into my face.
I seem to be then
a young boy in Byelostok.
Blood runs, spilling over the floors.
The barroom rabble-rousers
give off a stench of vodka and onion.
A boot kicks me aside, helpless.
In vain I plead with these pogrom bullies.
While they jeer and shout,
‘Beat the Yids. Save Russia!’
Some grain-marketer beats up my mother.
O my Russian people!
I know
you
are international to the core.
But those with unclean hands
have often made a jingle of your purest name.
I know the goodness of my land.
How vile these antisemites—
without a qualm
they pompously called themselves
the Union of the Russian People!

I seem to be
Anne Frank
transparent
as a branch in April.
And I love.
And have no need of phrases.
My need
is that we gaze into each other.
How little we can see
or smell!
We are denied the leaves,
we are denied the sky.
Yet we can do so much—
tenderly
embrace each other in a darkened room.
They’re coming here?
Be not afraid. Those are the booming
sounds of spring:
spring is coming here.
Come then to me.
Quick, give me your lips.
Are they smashing down the door?
No, it’s the ice breaking . . .
The wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar.
The trees look ominous,
like judges.
Here all things scream silently,
and, baring my head,
slowly I feel myself
turning grey.
And I myself
am one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here.
I am
each old man
here shot dead.
I am
every child
here shot dead.
Nothing in me
shall ever forget!
The ‘Internationale,’ let it
thunder
when the last antisemite on earth
is buried for ever.
In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
In their callous rage, all antisemites
must hate me now as a Jew.
For that reason
I am a true Russian!

More poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko