Friday, August 29, 2014

Poems from Blood to Remember--"I Remember Coming into Warsaw, a Child"

We're beginning a new occasional posting of poems from Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust (ed. Charles Fishman).  The second edition came out in 2007 and contains the work of 240 poets.

The first poem in this series is by Helen Degen Cohen, a poet who survived the Holocaust and came to the US as a Displaced Person.  

I remember coming into Warsaw, a child

out of a sheer, sunlit countryside, 
where sometimes a goat made the only sound in 
all the universe, and a car engine would certainly 
tear the wing of an angel. Entering burnt Warsaw 
and the Sound of the World, how strange, how lonely 
the separate notes of Everything, lost in a smell of 
spent shots still smoking, a ghost of bombs, a silence 
of so many voices, the ruined city singing not only 
a post-war song but an Everything hymn of dogs wailing, 
a car, a horse, a droning plane, a slow, distant 
demolition, hammers like rain, the hum, the hum, 
bells and levers and voices leveled and absorbed 
into the infinite hum in which the ruins 
sat empty and low like well-behaved children,
the ruins, their holes, like eyes, secretly open,
passing on either side, as we entered Warsaw, an air 
of lost worlds in a smoky sweet light ghosting
and willing their sounding and resounding remains


Helen Degen Cohen’s (Halina Degenfisz’s) awards include a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) fellowship in poetry, First Prize in British Stand Magazine's fiction competition, and three Illinois Arts Council Literary awards.

Once an Artist-in-Education and instructor for Roosevelt University, she co-edits Rhino Magazine and coordinates its Poetry Forum workshop. Widely published in periodicals, she was twice "featured poet" in The Spoon River Poetry Review, and her work has been the subject of essays such as "Rootlessness and Alienation in the Poetry of Helen Degen Cohen" (Shofar) and "This Dark Poland" (Something of My Very Own to Say, Columbia University, Press).

In 2009 she had two poetry collections published—Habry and On A Good Day One Discovers Another Poet—as well as an excerpt from her novel, The Edge of the Field (in Where We Find Ourselves—SUNY). A new chapbook, Neruda Nights, is available from Finishing Line Press.


A review of Helen Degen Cohen's Habry, a collection of poems on the Holocaust, appeared several years ago in Writing the Holocaust.  To go to the review, click here.