Candles

licks of flame dimly seen
through ancient blinders
and then white powder fog:

menorah in Poland’s Parliament
Shabbat candles in Warsaw apartment
a barn in Jedwabne full
of so many lights

the mad rush to impose forgetting
to extinguish inherited anguish
and choke out the questions
why did you survive
and who lit the fire?

About the Poem

The poem refers, in the first instance, to the actions of Polish far-right parliamentarian Grzegosz Braun, who disrupted a Hanukkah service in the Polish Sejm (Parliament) but using a fire extinguisher to douse the menorah; but it also reflects on the long and anguished relationship between Poles and Jews, and Poles’ wrangling with their antisemitic past. Jedwabne is a small Polish town where during the Holocaust the Polish residents murdered their Jewish neighbors by forcing them into a barn and then lighting it on fire.

About the Author

M. Benjamin Thorne is a poet and historian interested in the ways societies choose to remember (and forget) their complicated pasts, as well as the limits of language.

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