Two Poems

Poetry / Hadara Bar-Nadav

:: Dirty ::

Dirty dirty Jew. Dirty dirty dirty. Jew money. Jew thief. Jew miser. Jew greed. Jew sweat. Jew grease. Jew hair: kinky, oily, dirty black. Jew nose: lip-low, an oversized hook. Hath not Jew eyes? Almond-shaped, shit-brown or wet ash. Jew lightning. Jew star. Jew flame. Jew teeth: a whole harvest of gold. Jew skeleton. Jew soap. Jew showers of carbon monoxide and Zyklon B. Jew history: fake. Jew lies: erased. Tattooed degenerates. Jew rats hidden in attics, stuffed under floorboards, into ovens, trains. Jew millions. Masses. Mud. Graves. Jew extinction in a Jew museum. Terezin: a Jew country club, a red sea crossed by the Red Cross. Jew music, operas, plays. Jew humor. Jew brain. That toothless laugh, such howling.


:: Mute ::

Why can I not speak in dreams? 

             Uncle Mangler, Murderer, Mengele 
             playing with twins in his zoo again,
stitching together the skins 
of their gypsy backs. 

             Whole barrels of cream-
             colored legs and the children’s 

heads preserved and shipped 
to universities in Graz and Berlin.

              Specimens for the advancement
              of silence.

Don’t forget the still living 
eyes injected with dye. 
            How to make both blue, 
            correct heterochromia, root out 

the brown, brute Jew. 

             The dissection done, a shower 
             with zyklon b or 14 shots 
of chloroform into twin hearts
(two by two by hush).

              My doctor of dreams, Angel 
              of Death who sutures  
closed my useless mouth. 
I am mute and dumb

              and would call you Uncle
              if I could find my tongue. 


From the writer

:: Account ::

“Dirty” takes on centuries and miles-worth of stereotypes about Jews. Jews—almost white, but not quite white. A dirty white. The kind of white other white people, among others, like to hate. Embedded in this poem are racialized, religious, and cultural stereotypes. Also included are historical references to the murder of Jews in the Holocaust, who were stripped of their humanity and seen merely as walking stereotypes, as if they were not even real people, but merely cut-outs of cardboard signs the Nazis had created and could destroy at will. Also mentioned is the Red-Cross’s infamous visit to the “country club” concentration camp Terezin, where much of my family was killed. The Nazis enlisted the healthiest prisoners to, in effect, stage a play of a happy ghetto in order to fool the Red Cross into believing that the camp was really a lovely place to live, where individuals and families could thrive, where people were well fed and cared for, etc. And the Red Cross decided to believe what they wanted to believe and failed to scratch the surface of the horrors at Terezin. Although Terezin was not technically an extermination camp, approximately 33,000 people died there. Another 88,000 people were deported from Terezin and sent to death camps, such as Auschwitz. Of the approximately 15,000 children sent to Terezin, fewer than 150 survived. ( None of my 50+ family members who were sent to Terezin survived. The howling at the end of the poem “Dirty” is a death cry, a defiant cry, and an ironic slap of laughter in the face of historical devastation that did, in the end, not entirely succeed. Here I am, a Jew, decades later. And I am alive. And I write. And I howl.

“Mute” was inspired by Nazi medical experiments, largely conducted by and under Josef Mengele. He was also referred to as The Angel of Death and curiously asked the children he experimented on to call him Uncle. The “experiments” in the poem are actual experiments he performed on children. He had a particular interest in twins as well as children with other “abnormalities” including different colored eyes (heterochromia) and spinal issues. Mengele was never punished for his horrific war crimes. Instead, he was protected by family and friends and lived a long life after the War in Paraguay and Brazil until he died from a stroke while swimming. The poem is written from the perspective of a haunted speaker, who sees all and who calls out and names Mengele’s crimes.


Hadara Bar-Nadav is a 2017 NEA Fellow in Poetry. Her newest book of poetry The New Nudity is forthcoming from Saturnalia Books in 2017. Her previous books include Lullaby (with Exit Sign), The Frame Called Ruin, and A Glass of Milk to Kiss Goodnight, and the chapbooks Fountain and Furnace and Show Me Yours.  She also co-authored the textbook Writing Poems, 8th ed. and is Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.