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, Ph.D., Pro­fes­sor Emeri­ta at CUNY, serves on the WNBA, NYC board and is Poet-in-Res­i­dence at The Tran­si­tion Net­work (TTN). She won the Women’s Nation­al Book Asso­ci­a­tion 2013 Annu­al Writ­ing Con­test in Poet­ry and Women Who Write 2013 Inter­na­tion­al Poet­ry Con­test. A final­ist for Jew­ish Cur­rents Raynes Com­pe­ti­tion, 2014, her poet­ry appears in nation­al and inter­na­tion­al jour­nals, includ­ing most recent­ly in Com­stock Review and Indo­lent Books. Her chap­book Tee­ter­ing was pub­lished in 2014 and The Present Aban­doned in 2020, Fin­ish­ing Line Press. Her poet­ry is forth­com­ing in Gyro­scope Review, Train Riv­er Press Anthol­o­gy and Dre­ich Mag­a­zine. She has just com­plet­ed a nov­el, The Camel Tamer, and hopes to find a pub­lish­er. The nov­el tells the har­row­ing jour­ney of an inno­cent Amer­i­can teenag­er who finds him­self in the crosshairs of the mid­dle east conflict.