Poems by Nina Pick
Eventually I discovered a world
beyond the confines of the camp.
I cannot say how I learned this
but I learned this. I noticed
there were bees. Soon I crawled
under the fence to touch them.
They left a trail of pollen across my hand.
When they hurt me I understood the pain
as the pinprick of life. A luminous fur.
Suddenly, I had become free.
It was only when I looked
through the fence I now stood beyond
at the faces of those I had left
that I mourned the end of my imprisonment.
For they were on one side, and I the other.
And they would die—indeed, had died already,
long ago—and I would not be there
to die again on their behalf.
With every step in the bee-filled grass I was stung.
Each night the horses grow or shrink
depending on the quality of my soul-life.
One night a skinny horse came. He was starving
and thirsty. His little penis hung flaccid.
He told me to quit my job and start writing.
I said, Who, dear soul, will pay the bills?
He replied, Sleep, and you will know the answer.
So I fell asleep again and this time I dreamed
a large horse was galloping inside a small arena,
meaning, my job was too small for the size of my soul.
I was worried about paying rent and also taxes.
My soul, however, was concerned with its debt to the ancestors,
who had survived Auschwitz. It needed to keep writing
to fulfill this debt. This debt scared me more
than the money I owed the government.
I felt I could never pay back my grandparents for the miraculous
fact of my existence, nor could I forgive them
for their requirement, meaning I was less scared of
not writing than I was of writing, because where
else would it lead but, eventually, Auschwitz?
Therefore, I decided, I would keep myself busy.
With the bit in my mouth, no words could come out.
So I signed on for work I disliked, woke early,
starved, thirsted, and let the past rest.
Like a child, it slept.
Whether there’s proof
whether there’s certainty
whether truth persists
I found my way to it
as if had existed without me
and within me
and long before me
in the night garden
whose gates I entered
by the light of the moon
even this I mourned
that when I killed one
by accident my own
blood on my hands
the others surrounded me singing
The Wolf Nest
I carry the wolf into my childhood bedroom.
He has a wound down the length of his side.
I clean off the blood, wrap him in band-aids.
And then I kiss him, caressing his mottled fur.
This was my heart, long ago, it was like that.
Punctured by longing for the snowy forest.
Open as the gap between barren branches.
When I left my childbook I strode into the
world, carrying a heavy sword. I didn’t know
which it was I longed for more, to leave home
or to return. Snow fell. Night gathered.
Not for many years would I become whole.
Light as an epiphyte taking nutrients
from the air, I wanted to forget.
I wanted to forget and I also wanted
to submerge myself in the dark
and the fact of it. I wanted to go there.
This desire was like a bee sting.
Though it hurt to touch it,
I could not stop touching it.
If I kept touching it, it would never heal.
Or, if I did not touch it, it would never heal.
I did not know which was more true.
They were both true. One hand stung
and the other burned.
Soon every part of me was touched.
The way a child’s body does not belong to her.
I gave myself four options for my survival. The first,
I told myself, was to give myself up. The second
was to wait to be captured. The third was to go into hiding.
And the fourth was to attempt an escape. I planned it all
from my childhood bedroom, scouted the cubbyholes
around the house that would serve to hide me
for the duration of the war. I would eat the body of
the cat, and if necessary the neighbor, whose prodigious fat
we would use first for food and then for fuel in the dead of winter.
When the SS came for me I would attempt to kill them
with a kitchen knife, or perhaps a deer-hunting rifle. Finally
they would capture me and send me to the camps, where
I would do what I could to preserve my humanity,
though ultimately I would be sent to the gas chambers.
I knew it with all the certainty of my body. When my mother
made a birthday cake to celebrate the seventh year
of my still being here on earth, I could taste the ashes.
The morning is sharp
with the kind of light that shines like a
knife on the water.
I have never missed anyone so fully in all my life,
a life composed of missing the absent.
Dear favorite unhappy childbook where it all was written.
I’m reading you now.
The thesis: the absent are never absent, just dead.
Also, its corollary: if the absent are absent, they are dead.
Research has shown
that sometimes the absent come back
alive, but this proves nothing.
As they are no longer absent,
they are no longer dead.
They have returned from the gulch with presents,
mysteriously, from Australia. Magical,
everlasting beings who die and rise again.
Unlike the actual dead, who do not rise.
Night after night, my dreams
are full of them—
white horses and black dogs
come to carry me across
that luminous river. Symbolic
death (if indeed you are),
even you I am afraid of—
Who among us can tell the
difference between one type of
pain and another?
Nina Pick is the author of two chapbooks, À Luz and Leaving the Lecture on Dance; her new book, At the Edge of the Dirac Sea, is forthcoming in 2021 from Shanti Arts. The grandchild of Holocaust survivors, much of her work explores the confluence of intergenerational trauma and ecological crisis. A healing practitioner, teacher, editor, and oral historian, she seeks to restore a sense of reverence for our bodies, our ancestors, and the earth. These poems are excerpted from her manuscript in progress. www.ninapick.com
“The Discovery” was first published in The Dreamers Anthology: Writing Inspired by the Lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Anne Frank.
“Birthday” was first published in Cigar City Poetry Journal.