Born in London on the last night of the Blitz, Karen Alkalay-Gut has been living and writing out in the open ever since. She was reared in Rochester, NY, where she received her PhD from the University of Rochester. She has lived and worked in Israel since 1972. There, she has raised a family and had a career as a writer in both English and Hebrew, as well as a translator into French, German, Italian, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Polish. Her 31-page  curriculum vitae details a rich and ranging intellectual life and career;  it is clear that it would take more reams of paper than that to contain what her heart knows. But we can sometimes catch her in spoken word, as  in the clip below from Bowery Poetry Project. WVFC was thrilled to receive an offer of the Pesach poem below. We bet more than one family will considers her words before next week’s Passover/Easter celebrations.

1957

We were slaves
to Pharaoh in Egypt,
we sang extempore —
each with a different tune
each with a different memory.

Born on the outer edge of war,
I envisioned only Cecil B. DeMille
and the myriads of extras drowned
behind a trick glass wall.

(No. That isn’t true.
Years before,
when we were in our old home
—flimsy and small—
I would fear
that when we opened the door for Elijah,
Hitler and his men would push in,
destroying all, but my consciousness.)

In the new house
with the massive cherry dining set
my father and I bought secondhand
and the flowered gilt dishes
my mother saved all year,
we were our own leaders.

Our guests leaned on their pillows
and admired the oversized turkey
(symbol I see now of America—
freedom and relief)
the tsimmis, the compote,
and all the extra courses
—fish, liver, soup —
they had only dreamed of
even before the war.

And while I focussed
on the Hagada drawings of Moses,
with his strong, Heston chin,
did my father
think of his years in prison?
Did my mother
recall the boat
that took them back
from the Promised Land to Danzig
on the eve Hitler came in?

On this night of nights
we sang together offkey
that once we were slaves
that now we are free

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Shelley April 23, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    That is some serious jumping-off-the-page Old Testament art!

    Reply