By the Piano (Evening Melody), Rihard Jakopič, 1905, Muse­um of Mod­ern Art; edit­ed by Simona Zaretsky


The sign­er stands to one side

of the may­or. Her hands fly up,

first to her fore­head, then to her

heart. Her fin­gers flutter

of heart­break,

yet anoth­er shooting.

She con­jures in me

my mother’s deaf brothers

and sis­ters,

she the only hear­ing child. When

they were little

my moth­er played the piano,

her sib­lings the audience.

She left them behind,

sailed on a ship

to Amer­i­ca,

no man would mar­ry her.

Before dawn

the Jews were round­ed up,

stripped of their clothes, their belongings.

Five deep pits, eight meters wide,


steps carved on the edge

to ease entry.

They are sign­ing now

from an unmarked grave,

bestow­ing their lov­ing applause.

My moth­er knew the random

hand of mercy

and they

do not begrudge her.


I flew to a city far

from Brook­lyn where she raised me.

My moth­er lay in her railed bed,

wisps of hair spread

out on her pil­low. I held

out my hand.

She pushed it away.

Next morn­ing, I drove to Bojangles

for a sausage bis­cuit and coffee,

then back to her.

She still refused to know me,

ghost of a woman,

who fled a Russ­ian village

by her­self

and left a wrong marriage.

She swooned

when her infant was born,

the daugh­ter

who would con­sole her,

the daugh­ter who now rushes

to the airport

for her flight home.

This piece is a part of the Berru Poet­ry Series, which sup­ports Jew­ish poet­ry and poets on PB Dai­ly. JBC also awards the Berru Poet­ry Award in mem­o­ry of Ruth and Bernie Wein­flash as a part of the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards. Click here to see the 2019 win­ner of the prize. If you’re inter­est­ed in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the series, please check out the guide­lines here.

Har­ri­et Shenkman was the Poet-in-Res­i­dence at the JCC of Mid Westch­ester. She earned a Ph.D. from Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and is a pro­fes­sor emeri­ta at City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her poet­ry awards include the Women’s Nation­al Book Asso­ci­a­tion Annu­al Writ­ing Con­test in Poet­ry and the Women Who Write Inter­na­tion­al Poet­ry and Short Prose Con­test. Her poet­ry appeared or will appear in Union, the Raynes Poet­ry Com­pe­ti­tion Anthol­o­gy, Evening Street Review, Third Wednes­day, Jew­ish Cur­rents, Jew­ish Mag­a­zine, Westch­ester Review. Oyez Review, The Alexan­dria Quar­ter­ly, Com­stock Review, The Berru Poet­ry Series, Yet­zi­rah, The Mar­bled Sigh, and in two chap­books, Tee­ter­ing and The Present Aban­doned. Her new poet­ry col­lec­tion, Won­der Wheelis avail­able from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.