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.