Charles Adés Fishman
Charles Adés Fishman took his mother's maiden name as his middle name after her death in May, 1999. He created the Visiting Writers Program at Farmingdale State College in 1979 and served as director until 1997. He also developed the Distinguished Speakers Program for Farmingdale State and led that program from 2001 through 2007. In addition, he was cofounder of the Long Island Poetry Collective (1973), a founding editor of Xanadu magazine and Pleasure Dome Press (1975), and originator of the Paumanok Poetry Award Competition, which he coordinated for seven years (1990-97). He has also been series editor of the Water Mark Poets of North America Book Award (1980-83), associate editor of The Drunken Boat and poetry editor of Gaia, Cistercian Studies Quarterly, and the Journal of Genocide Studies, and he is currently poetry editor of New Works Review (www.new-works.org) and a consultant in poetry to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Among Fishman’s most recent awards and honors are the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association’s Long Island Poet of the Year Award (2006) and the 2007 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence. His books include Mortal Companions (Pleasure Dome Press, 1977), Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust (Texas Tech University Press, 1991), and The Death Mazurka (Texas Tech, 1989), an American Library Association Outstanding Book of the Year that was nominated for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. His most recent poetry collections are Country of Memory (Uccelli Press) and 5,000 Bells (Cross-Cultural Communications), both 2004, and Chopin’s Piano (Time Being Books, 2006). Cross-Cultural Communications' mailing address is 239 Wysnum Avenue, Merrick, NY 11566.
The following poems are from Chopin's Piano.
1. Touching HaKotel
From the Notes of General Morderchai Gur, liberator of the Old City of Jerusalem
The soldiers were still trembling.
We had reached the area of the Wall
and few would approach further. Everyone
was on edge, believer and unbeliever.
Then I saw a man—he stood apart,
in the right-hand corner. He was not moving
but seemed glued to the stones: it was as if
he had grown up with the Wall, as if he
and the old stones were brothers. His hands
were laid on the stones, his palms flat to them,
the fingers spread and rigid. No part of him
moved—not his hands, nor his head, nor his hair—
his body would not relinquish its embrace.
The sky above the Wall did not change
but deepened its presence, and the ground
under his feet remained in place. I could see
he was at prayer, that he was praying,
but it appeared to be more a long drinking:
he was drinking from the stones, he was
breathing them. I could see that he, too,
was stunned into silence and immobility.
I say “he, too,” because I was as motionless
as he: I could not take my eyes from him.
I, too, was being held; I, too, could feel the wash
of centuries flood over me; I, too, felt the pounding
of the Jewish heart reaching into the heart of the stone.
In memory of David and Naava Appelbaum
Instead of a marriage consecrated
under a huppah and a full moon,
a funeral under the black rainbow
of grief Instead of joy, sorrow
instead of blessings for a new bride
a double grave for a daughter
and her father Instead of a wife
and husband lifted above dancing
friends and family, eyes that will not
stop weeping endless days
without their wisdom their affirming
voices their pleasure in life
Instead of David’s ministering
to the maimed and wounded,
a strong light extinguished a flame
that had comforted and warmed
covered with a lid of stony earth
Instead of Naava’s gift for nurturing,
an eternal and childless silence
A Jewish daughter has been taken
a Jewish father has been cut down
Instead of their service to others,
absence instead of their good works,
the burial of faith and hope She
who cared so deeply for children,
infinitely bereft and he, who had pledged
himself to a long life of healing, severed
from us all Instead of delighting
in a wedding of great light, Jerusalem
lies stricken and cannot awaken.
Names on a List
January 23, 1995
David Ben-Zino, Adi Rosen, Damian Rosovski—
Who were these soldiers Islamic Jihad killed?
In Tel Aviv I had slept in a young soldier’s room
—my shirts hung for a while in his closet,
my head crushed his pillow, and my feet
drank the chill from his floor. Was he
among the murdered, this only son of my friends?
No, he was not in Netanya in the third week
of January, he was not in Tel Aviv, not
in Israel, not in the Middle East at all.
Then let us not speak his name, not even
in a whisper: who are we to trust the gods
or the unseen powers? My friends shall keep
their son, and I will sleep without dreaming.
But who were these young soldiers? Rafael
Mizrahi, Yehiel Sharvit, Yuval Tuvya—how did
they live and what did they live for?A month
earlier, in Jerusalem, I saw two soldiers at ease
at the Haas Promenade. They were there to guard
children and the teachers of these children
and Uzis hung at their backs in stark diagonals.
They looked like soldiers, but I could see
they were really older brothers and would-be
boyfriends, and one joked with the teacher
whose clouds of copper hair outshone the mid-day
sun; the other ate his lunch and half-sprawled
in the scorched grass. I saw their sisters
and cousins in the Judean Desert, in the spillway
of light that opened into dark, conflicted Jericho,
and they were waiting in the alleyways of the Old
City where tribes of tourists materialized from stone
and filled their arms with Yemenite jewelry and Druse
cloth. I understand, but who was Gilad Gaon? who
Eran Gueta? who was David Hasson? who Eitan Peretz?
I saw them in Abu Ghosh, wolfing down hummus
in olive oil, small hills of falafel. And they
were at the bus terminal in Tel Aviv, hauling
their battered duffels at the Bahá’í Shrine in Haifa
keeping watch in the sacred gardens and I saw
them anointed with fire in the sunset that blossomed
over Ashkelon. But you know these words are lies
and your hearts are not fooled by my stories
for Yaron Blum is dead Ilie Dagan is dead
Amir Hirschenson is dead Anan Kadur is dead
Maya Kopstein is dead Soli Mizrahi is dead
Avi Salto is no longer with us Daniel Tzikuashvili
is no longer with us All the bright young flames
of Israel’s sun are dying and I am here speaking
their names to you.
How You Survived
For the victims
You were blown up with the rest of us:
lifted into the air. You were thrown
like bunches of seaweed onto the heaving
shore. The air was squeezed out of you,
wave on wave sending you sprawling.
You glimpsed the heaven of dead fish
while you lay there submerged, then crawled,
bleeding and gasping, into the shelter
of pitch-blackness. You awoke, floundering.
The dead and wounded surrounded you,
and a faint salt-light hovered in the distance.
There were cracks in the sandy earth
that steamed, whose vaporous silences
called to you, as if these, too, were the voices
of the dead. No, you would not join them
in that smoldering dirge, you would not drown
with them but hauled yourself onto dry land
where you curled into smoke and prayed.
You Walked in Ninevah
For Rabbi Carlos C. Huerta
U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles)
In Ninevah in the filthy streets of the ancient city
of Jonah, you discovered a building missing
half its roof Fourteen feet of garbage
jammed the sanctuary where the hazan
sang In Ninevah, now Mosul, you bent low
to enter that desecrated place
It was the Jews’ house where our people
had gathered to pray only now, under Islam,
there were no holy books no blessed
torah scrolls no doors to the ark
where the power of the Lord had presided
no intact benches bima eternal light
but Hebrew writing was on the walls:
the Shema with its call to community
and remembrance This is what you found
as you walked through Mosul, once Ninevah:
shattered and sewage-smeared homes
where--for more than a thousand years--
Iraqi Jews had lived the tomb of Daniel
and doorposts engraved with the mighty lion
of Judah You felt our people there:
their presence and history their many failures
their few and costly triumphs and their lives
as rabbis doctors teachers merchants tailors
You felt the long-quieted pulse of their devotion
as the Sabbath drew near as the sun set silently,
marking the hour for candles you felt their yearning
as the spirit of God moved close In Ninevah-Mosul,
you felt their ghostly presence and you heard them
singing in the narrow streets in the despoiled courtyards
you heard their songs in the harvest booths and gardens
of Succoth in the old mystery of oil lamps at Hanukkah
you listened as Pesach songs brimmed in the alleyways
like too-full glasses of red wine And you walked
in Ninevah as the night came down and were chilled
by the voices of children welling up from the stones
And you walked further into night in Ninevah
and heard Jewish babies cry--you could hear
that crying like the long drawn-out shrieking
of the wind In Ninevah, in Mosul-Ninevah,
you could feel the slain children of Zion
still rushing home for Shabbat in the dark.
Praying for My Sister
This earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.
I went to Acco and prayed for my sister.
It was a bleak day in January, the northernmost coast
of the kingdom. The bus ride from Jerusalem took hours.
What is a day to the heart that seeks absolution?
I had taken this duty on myself: I would stand in the Báb’s garden
where Haganah soldiers had been murdered by the British;
I would speak for her words of hope and comfort.
This was the realm of passionate martyrdom,
and I would read from Bahá’í scripture, The Fire Tablet
and The Seven Valleys. It was late afternoon and the sky
was rapidly darkening—soon there would be rain.
No one stood with me in this haunted place, but I reached out
to my sister through these words; I reached out to her God
for her, as the cool drops fell . . . and I felt the spirit of my sister
touch my lips, the breath of an old Spirit graze my cheek.
In Haifa, too, I prayed for her: at the great temple,
under the gold-leafed dome. Deep in the sacred gardens,
the sea stirred the ramparts; light blossomed
on the ripening fruit. I took off my shoes and entered.
The quiet approached me.
I prayed for my sister there. I asked for Bahá’u’lláh’s blessing
to descend on her like cool rain, to sweeten her days
with the scent of lush blossoms. In that small chapel,
I could not tell if the Earth had, at last, become one country,
but I knew that my sister should be minister of a world at peace.
I prayed for my sister in Acco and Haifa, and I prayed
for her again at the Wall, for this was the place
where the power of life fully spoke to me, where history
and heaven seemed entwined. I prayed for her
in the Judean hills, where the zealots had known God
through the strength of community and isolation;
at Stella Carmel, where Christian missionaries offered Christ
to my wandering heart (and where I said grace for them
in my heart’s best Hebrew). I spoke to my sister words barely spoken,
until what I murmured to myself felt like the sweetest blessing
At the Place of Burning
First Kings, 18: 20-40
On the road from Daliyat-el-Karmil
to Muhraqa, I was alone with the country.
The sky was deep into cobalt and so clear
I could see the snow shimmer on Mt. Hermon.
I walked a dirt road that slowly spiralled upwards,
in a land of drought and fire, and the slowness
of my journey quieted me: even the insistent
chatter of gunfire could not dissuade:
let the world practice peace or warfare,
I would put one foot in front of the other.
I saw the hillsides of white rock and olive trees,
of bare earth and eucalyptus, and the unconquerable
hostilities of the planet receded into the distance.
I was moving toward Elijah’s Tower, that old killing place
where God’s fickle power had shone down for a time
on his prophet, so that one ardent Jew slew the mighty
priests of Baal, four hundred and fifty keepers
of the darkness. This is where I walked, in the sun
of almost-forgotten history, under the thunder
of jet fighters returning from the border of Lebanon,
melting into the low glare of sunlight and vanishing.
I felt the light deepen around me then, as if I too
might disappear in a cloud of stars or fire or lift my pen
and bring down a rain that cleansed and healed.
For I stood at the place of burning, knowing
that we wait always at the verge of transformation
and where I was now—this ancient kingdom, Israel—