Poetry
Eulogy to the Holocaust | The Last Prayer | A Family Tree By Numbers

The Last Prayer
by Ruth Mandel

    Each chunk we bite from life is a prayer. Our treasure chest homes,
    our love-magnet pets, each meal
    we grudgingly make and casually take.
    Prayers to life
               let us flourish let us live
               let us stay  leave us be  let us stay  leave us be.
    Utterances we muster as we swallow, spurred by a rush,
    gratitude and fear.  Vehement pleas
               may we preserve what luck we have.

    Babies are prayers. Mothering is prayer.
    Each tasting kiss, each chattering
    diaper change, each worn red sandal putting on pulling off,
    each rambling invented story, each whispered
    convincing promise. The cradles
    we make of our voices,  rocking,  rocking
               may this remain just so   may we all be here   may we
               do this  again and again and again   tomorrow and for
               ever.

    Each rolling, belly to belly nursing, a recitation.
    Her milky new breath, when it collides
    with mine, a sanctuary
    between our mouths.
    Our hands, as they flutter together
    and apart.   Our wondering fingers together
    and apart   uttering.

    From the instant my doctor said, "Yes, finally
    you are pregnant" my hands
    grafted themselves to my slow, anxious belly,
    how my hands remained steadfastly there while my baby cracked through me,
    how my hands shifted to her setting head
               may we be safe    may we be safe    may we be safe
               may we be invulnerable.

    The back of the head faces outside:  strategic armour.
    The palm inside:  devoted sentry.
    Poised between the precious and the dangerous - between her head
    and the table corner, her shoulders
    and the stair she faces down, her eyes
    and a violent sight.
    The cradle
    I make of my hands - infinite, furious,
    futile.
                          Those mothers, their babies,
                          them too.

    I know now what I was afraid of
    trying to decide if we should have a child
    what the ambivalence and fear warned
    what those mothers knew
    those mothers forced to stand, collapsing
    in long terrified lines.
    My baby knows what their babies knew,
    babies held in faltering arms, shielded
    by motherís unyielding hand.

    What is lighter than the motherís hand
    What is heavier than the motherís exhausted arms
    What is heavier than the baby urgent with need
    The weight of your child.
    The excessive, faultless pull of gravity, a downward
    tug I never want to know; after the terrible trains, the father
    gone, the baby in her arms for
    ever.

    And then in the gun point crush
    the mother whispers, put your head on my shoulder.
    Her hand cups the back of the her babyís head,
    her wrist at the nape of her neck, cradling.
    Crushed in the chamber,
    she draws the head inward,
    interweaves shoulder chin cheek
    tucks her nose into her babyís neck.
    She inhales the tart,
    moist scent that secrets there.
    Her inhalation, a recitation. The rescuing breath,
    held in her mouth.

    Mothering there.
    Did she hold it deeply,
    safely in her striving lungs.
    Did he slowly exhale
    close to her babies mouth
    a sanctuary.

    In the terror of that leakless room,
    tugging each other in the gas,
    did she make a sudden choice, or
    no choice. Instantaneous.

    Later
    those mothers, their babies,
    extracted from the pile.
    The motherís stiff, angled fingers
    driven through her babyís
    hard soft skull,
    panic quickening.

    The last protection,
    not to suffer longer, not to be orphaned for an instant,
    What those mothers suddenly knew
    what they did. The fingers
    loud and silent in their last plea. The handís unbearable
    story.
    What they were so afraid of.
    What we are so afraid of .
    The last prayer
    The last mothering.