Jeanne Koré Salvato

Dear Reader,

I would say that these are difficult times.  The war in Gaza falls heavy on our hearts for the Jews and the Palestinians.

Holocaust Remembrance Day was this week. I was reading that the final resting place of hundreds of thousands of Jews is as yet still unknown. And of all things, AI is helping sift through records and diaries and other materials with some success.

I am always struck when I see on a street in Paris a plaque telling us that certain people were deported from this place on such and such a date.  This one says, for example, “In the memory of the students from this school, deported from 1942 – 1944 because they were born Jewish, innocent victims of the barbarous Nazis and the Vichy government.” 

Vichy was the name of the French collaborators who worked with and on behalf of the Nazis. The worst story I ever heard about this Vichy regime was that they offered up a trainload of women and children to an extermination camp.  And the Nazis said, “Hang on. We’re not ready.” The French collaborators volunteered their own people to the Nazis.

My then-husband used to say about this subject that God is just.  And when questioned, he said no one ever admits they were a collaborator during the war.  Instead, they worked, like Beckett and his wife Suzanne did, for the French Resistance.  God, therefore, has killed off all the collaborators.  I think he was pointing to a touchy subject.  Once in Germany I sat in a Catholic church with a German friend.  And I whispered, “I wonder where all the old Nazis are?” And she pointed to the old men at the back of the church.  Boy, that was creepy.

The rest of the plaque reads, “They were exterminated in the death camps.  More than 700 of these children lived in the 18th arrondissement of Paris.” And then at the end, “Let us never forget them.”

Gad Elmaleh, the great French comedian, offered a few thoughts on the current war between Israel and Hamas.  He begins, “There are still Israeli hostages in Gaza, who suffer, who are perhaps tortured; we don’t know.” Then he says, “There are still tremendous civilian deaths in Gaza.”  He next asks an important question: “Why do we choose a camp?” he asks.  “Empathy knows no camps.” For those who speak French this part starts at about 15.30

We could investigate the causes, the history, the wrong-doing, the extermination on both sides.  And yet, rather than investigate, I found a poem that takes us to that part of being human that is hard to put in words. 

The author of this poem is Walt Hunter, who does not yet have a Wikipedia page that I can find.  He is an associate professor and the chair of English at Case Western Reserve University. He is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, focusing on poetry. He’s a poet, and he likes to write about poetry, even from Ireland, which is a fine place to do both kinds of writing.

Translation Without Angels
-Walt Hunter

I was given an idea of the good
and I was taken quickly from
the same idea, though first it was as simple
as a tree I saw the ground, conserving summer,
populate with geese, some deer, the pachysandra.
The good was what I had without myself.
When I describe it now the whole scene strikes me
as the remnants of the kingdom of ends.
Or the Marian lyric when the help for pain
has only recently departed.

                                                I was given
understanding without mercy, over and over.
Understanding only ever changed the tree
to a darker color, light and dark
and light and dark and darker still
like a manifestation of the March wind.
I was given waiting for the person I loved,
for children, given time, and I was taken
hostage by the elements of time before I knew it.
I was placed without my knowledge or approval
in the middle of the tree and grew within it.

Two things: we’ve got waiting in there, so that’s something.  And the way the poet looks at waiting that it is something we are given.  “I was given waiting …” And we have the tree.

We are given waiting and a tree.  And mercy.

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