I see them in nightmares, or when silent in meditation.
There, they were doctors, green-grocers, artists, stone masons.
Here, they snake around barricades like a river.
I don’t see them when I’m serving dinner to the homeless
in my home town on Christmas day, because after all,
I’m Jewish and have nowhere else to go.
I see them when I meditate, or hike a mountain trail.
There, they ate breakfast, went to jobs, read the daily, made love.
Here, they lie dead on highways like roadkill.
I don’t see them when I’m working in the clinic
offering unguents and kindness to soothe wounds,
then staying late to finish chart notes, weary and irritable.
I see them when I hike, or when I pray
(which I do sporadically and) mainly when I envisage them
streaming as a long bridge across sinister waters full
of vipers, swelling the roads to a town near you.
There, they were proud of their kids’ report cards.
Here they struggle, defenseless to save children from drowning.
I pray to see them and to not see them
because it’s so much worse than I can fathom
and I can’t imagine an act that could make it right.
I see them as my family, ghettoed in their Russian shtetel,
then, crossing the ravenous Atlantic to an unknown fate.
There, they prayed and were slaughtered.
Here, we forget to pray, and prosper.
Risa Denenberg lives on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state where she works as a nurse practitioner. She reviews poetry for the American Journal of Nursing and is an editor at Headmistress Press, a small press that publishes poetry by lesbians. She has published three chapbooks and two full length books of poetry, Mean Distance from the Sun (Aldrich Press, 2013) and Whirlwind @ Lesbos (Headmistress Press, 2016).