July 22, 2015

Bill Christophersen

NEIGHBOR

Thanksgiving Day, 1983.

Tom, Debra and I are sitting down to the
meal she’s cooked when, she, a Lutheran
minister, remembers Mr. Breuer next door
in 2A. He lost his wife two weeks ago
to cancer; it seems the neighborly thing
to ask him in to share the meal. Grief
has tenderized his face. He doesn’t talk,
pushes a fork through the sweet potato squash.
The bruise on his arm resolves, on second glance,
into numbers. Yes, he says, he’d been interned.
Buchenwald. He’d survived. But what, he asks,
is this “survive”? Is survive that your body
is here, gets up, goes to window, goes to toilet,
makes tea, makes toast? “Shovel this latrine,
Jew,” the German soldier says. “So give
me shovel,” I says. “There is no shovel,
Jew,” he says. “Use your hands.” And so, is
true, Femmie and me survive, he says, crying.

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015
Tribute to New Yorkers

__________

Bill Christophersen: “My native Bronx burned down in the ’70s, beginning about the time I moved to Manhattan (1971). Every summer night in 1976, 1977, the fire engine sirens would begin about sundown—I’d hear them and see the smoke across the Harlem River. Before the decade was out, much of the borough I and my classmates had grown up in looked like post-World War II Dresden. Packs of wild dogs roamed the streets of Hunts Point. Morrisania and Mott Haven were, except for the housing projects, mostly rubble lots and the shells of charred tenements. This history has little to do with my poem ‘Neighbor’ but much to do with who I am and what I write.”