The Night of the Murdered Poets

by Lynn Melnick

 

 

I am writing this on a plane
to California 

with several pens in my bag
and all the water I want. 

It was evening when I left
and will be evening when I get there.

Sometimes I look at photos of myself
and wonder why I was not smiling. 

It's hard to imagine we once mattered so much
that they'd round us up. I mean poets. 

I know Jews have often been rounded up. 
I am contemplating 

a vermin metaphor here
just because of how hard it is to kill us

but I know better. I had to look up
"cosmopolitanism" in my dictionary. 

Forgive me, I did have a school but I didn't
show up much. I was too busy 

trying to murder myself. 
Stalin thought cosmopolitanism contemptible 

and Jewish.
Want to demolish the corpse of a community? 

Once upon a time, 
you could simply kill the poets. 

But more poets arose in their place. 
Well, more poets arose in this place

I should say. I was growing - what
is the word for something that grows 

peculiar and withstanding? - 
in California like the orange tree 

not native to the soil. 
The first poem I wrote

was about bleeding from my uterus.
onto sun-drenched stairs. 

After the poets died
in a prison basement

the Soviets smashed the Yiddish
linotype machines. 

I had to look up "linotype."
When I left pencils behind 

I bought myself a typewriter. 
I'm writing this on a laptop in the sky. 

After the poets died
the location of their remains was kept secret 

from their families,
their families were exiled to Siberia, 

their families were social outcasts. 
I only just learned about this recently.

I was a social outcast as a girl.
I'd get so high I'd forget to brush my teeth. 

I want to remember how ill-starred
the prison basement 

as I imagine it. I am finishing this on a plane
from California. It was afternoon

when I left and will be night
when I get home.

I believe in little
but I always say the Sh'ma on airplanes. 

I want to remember
that we'll never know the murder weapon

but we do know it, of course,
dozens of metaphors deep. I want to remember 

that until recently
I didn't know any of this.