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 ( 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. 




from Jerusalem

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.




5. Instead of a Wedding

In memory of David and Naava Appelbaum

September 2003



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—

was home.