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Jeanette Steinman Shelburne

San Juan Capistrano - 1940

“Oh, stop!” he said. 

“Stand here. Let me 

take a picture.”

She softened her hand 

around a white dove—

it looked at him too.

It was so nice to see her 

looking happy for a change.  

She was always in pain, never ate very much

and she never forgave him 

for everything he did to her.  

He didn’t deserve forgiveness—

he knew that.  

He was looking at her

for a change—the train ride 

from New York had been one long stretch

of listening to him boast 

to strangers—be the expert

be the King. 


It’d been one long marriage.

to the junk peddler who made it big

the peasant trampling 

through muddy fields 

to put food on the table

to save the family

“for their own good” –

By now he’d trampled 

all the love from her heart – still

she needed his strength

his brutality.

The sun in California

always comes as a surprise—

the air is dry and cool but the sun 

is like a torch – your scalp 

stands up on end, your skin 

puckers out as the sun reaches

into every hidden pore—

it loves you 

and soaks into you. 

Edges shine as reds grow redder

blues grow sharper

shadows grow deeper.

He looked a little bit 

like the man he was 

a long time ago – back when they thought 

they would change the world.  

“Oh, this glorious sun!” –

she would say things like that.

It was nothing like New York, this sun

that cradled her, warm like she remembered

from her mother’s ribs and breasts

and belly that smelled like sweat

and soap and an old dress.

She was smiling, like when she played 

the piano or sang arias or spoke French 

to his business partners—he used to feel 

lucky that a woman like her 

would want to marry him—

a long time ago

when he used to make her laugh.

God, she was magnificent.

He took the picture.

They Lived

Yad Vashem means “hand and name.”

By their hands they created deeds.

By their names they were known.


 From this quiet hill above Jerusalem 

  a memorial remembers    six million Jews.    A crushing maze 

 of tunnels display the artifacts 

of their lives and their murders,    finally opening 

 to a balcony of sunlight    atop the biblical hills.    The databases 


underground churn endlessly,

     recording, organizing, classifying, categorizing.

  I am here today.


  I look at a photo 

    of my aunt—a beautiful young woman 

  with a winsome smile          and liquid brown eyes 

that melt though the paper. On the back is written: 

          Erni, 1939.


I type her name— Erni Eichwald.

The Berlin to Łódź Ghetto transport sheet   flickers on the screen. 


October 1941.  


Neat, hand-drawn columns speak 

    of a day where everyone was pretending

this was an orderly relocation.  


You’re being sent to work in Poland, 

line up, cooperate and you’ll be okay. 


Meticulous columns, handwritten

with small round letters—first name, last name, age, profession.

It’s the W page.  


Line up by the letter

of your last name. Cooperate 

and you’ll be okay.  


First on the list are:             Erni Eichwald Wolff, 27, hatmaker,

          Helmutt Wolff, 43, artist, and

          Tana Wolff, 18 months old. 


I hadn’t known Erni 

   was married.  Now I have two more names 

to mourn.       I have dates              and places and ages 

and professions.  They existed.  

          They will be remembered.


Erni holds Tana, she’s wiggling,

but Erni holds her close. Helmut manages 

their two suitcases. They couldn’t take 

his canvases or Erni’s hats. 

They’re wearing winter coats.

It will be cold soon.

Tana tries to pull off her cap, 

the one Erni made for her.  

It’s pretty, with a little knitted flower 

in the front, but it’s hot 

in the crowd of people.

So Erni holds it

in her hand. 

They got in line first

so they’d have more space

on the train 

for the baby.  


Cicadas pulse    outside the building    and bushes 

sweat their herby fragrance.  There is a boxcar

half-hanging over the cliff, once packed with Jews,    crushing 

along railroad tracks    somewhere in Europe.    You can’t forget 

   this in Israel.  


It hangs over you

 the boxcar to nowhere 

  that could fall any moment. 

It hasn’t fallen 

        over the cliff yet,

  not today.

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