“Jew” by Devon Balwit

Devon Balwit


A squat, bald Jew … had stepped suddenly out of nowhere, wanting something, because that was the sort he was. He thought himself urbane and thought he had stepped away from his heritage as nimbly as he had skipped out of a doorway, whereas in fact everything he did, everything he wore or carried, and each affectation, revealed his nature, his background, and his ideals.
—Evan S. Connell
, Mr. Bridge

Everything we do, sooner or later,
exposes us—Jew—through and through.
We may as well sport ostentatious stars
of David, speak in the broad accent
of the shtetl, name ourselves Israel
and Miriam. Tuck our synagogues away
on the quietest street, and still
Swastikas appear, Cossacks
break down the door, the disgruntled
come after us with sharpened blades
and assault rifles. Someone at the office
passes around The Protocols of Zion,
asks Where are you from—really?
notes how good we are with money,
with words, but not in praise. We awaken
to our pictures plastering the campus,
schnoz exaggerated, all but quivering
with the rat-whiskers of the propaganda posters.
Even the Left doesn’t have our back,
“the Zionist oppressor” abandoned
in confrontations like a lost legion.
As with poor Avram of the epigram,
our human handshake, fleshy, moist, infectious,
awakens a shudder. What can survivors do
but survive? We say kaddish. We continue
the work of Tikkun Olam. Easy to kill,
we are hard to exterminate.

from Poets Respond
November 1, 2018


Devon Balwit: “On the same day of the Tree of Life Synagogue attack I read an anti-semitic passage in the lovely novel, Mr. Bridge. It made me think: Media vita in morte sumus—In the midst of life we are in death—we Jews, always a hair’s breadth away from being scapegoated for something. But we’ve survived a long while. We’re tenacious.” (web)

Rattle Logo