27 January 2018

Razovsky on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I grew up hearing a lot about the Holocaust, mostly from my parents. My mother spent a childhood hearing about little else. She describes the solemn atmosphere in her household in Toronto, everyone gathered around the radio listening for news. Most of her aunts and uncles had stayed behind in Poland, while her parents, Samuel and Nina Blatt, had come to Canada around 1919.

I haven't written a lot directly about the Holocaust. I don't think it's my place. But the Holocaust exists in my writing, in passing, in periphery, in spirit.

Here is a poem of mine from my 2007 collection, I Cut My Finger (Anvil Press), that is imbued with the consciousness of the Holocaust.


The tumbling shelves
of button-filled jars, the dandelions
dotting the glistening lawn.
In the cupboard beneath the sink,
dented tins of shoe polish: black, brown,
red-brown. The rags that spilled
from the bottom drawer, from every
bottom drawer. And in the garage,
the nest of rusted pliers,
snapping, creaking.
Razovsky counted everything.

His fingers never stopped moving,
like his lips, and his eyeballs. He
inventoried, enumerated, catalogued,
whispered the names of all things,
and the things
that had no names. He counted dead uncles
he’d never met, each strand in their
long white beards, the threads
that hung from the cuffs of their
trousers. Razovsky counted
the sons they’d never had,
and the sons of the sons,
and he gave them all names.

“You’re a Razovsky,
and you a Razovsky, and your
name’s Razovsky, and I’ll call you
Razovsky.” And he counted each one
on a separate finger, because that
is what he did, he counted,
and when he ran out of fingers,
he used his toes, and then
the stones in his pockets, the teeth
in his mouth, the eyes on the fly
on the window ledge,
the scampering legs of a silverfish.

And when he was done,
he sat down with them, and
he counted the chairs around
the table, and counted the prayers
that had never been uttered,
and the prayers choked by smoke,
and Razovsky knew then who he was,
and he pinned a tag
to his shirt: “Razovsky.”

In fact, I think that all of my Razovsky poems (Razovsky was my paternal grandparents' name before they swapped it for Ross in the 1950s) are in some way about the Holocaust. My Razovsky poems appear in my books Razovsky at Peace (ECW, 2001), I Cut My Finger (Anvil Press, 2007), and You Exist. Details Follow. (Anvil Press, 2012). I have struggled to write more, but it hasn't happened. I hope it will again.

Over and out.


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