Poems and Poetry

Richard Kalfus

Did You Know | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

When illness strikes
controlling your life.
When pain is a nasty daily visitor
holding you tight
in the grip of old age.

When what remains
are aging memories
of a partner loved
of children young and once dependent
of adults who now need you less
while you yearn to be needed more.

Some turn to faith as a consoling force.
But I have burned those bridges long ago.
For God is no longer a redeeming force.

Yet I have found a way
To console my day
To turn my winter years
Into May.
I look to poetry
In its magical world
And find words
Which give life to my soul.

While writing I am free
So very briefly
from daily Angst
from memories of a past lost.
And I hope again for a new May.
When at my computer
I find the path
once covered with grief
to live now in the present day.

A Choiceless Choice | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

They had managed to escape Vienna
before the Nazis marched in.
Thanks to the support of an American cousin
they settled in Washington Heights —
a Manhattan haven for Jewish refugees
Others were not so lucky.
Kurt, the couple’s 5 year-old son,
bore the name of the grandfather
In Treblinka he was gassed.

Adjustment was not easy: they needed jobs
They were lucky: he a butcher; she a seamstress
Fluency in English not a necessity

We now meet Kurt at 20 in 1965
and the girlfriend Gerorgann,
who was the love of his life.
She was mature, tender, optimistic and kind.
The two spent hours talking on the phone,
Taking long walks in the neighborhood
Eating pizza at the local hangout,
Doing homework in one of their homes

One summer evening they made love.
And everything changed.
Theirs would be a love, growing stronger
each day.

So what was the problem
of two people in love?
For In the eyes of the parents
the love could not be
Their despair had no bottom.
How could this be true?
The boy’s Jewish soul
was bound to the suffering of many.
How could Kurt forget?
His very name tied to the Uncle who perished.

The family held council… uncles, aunts cousins alike
A mafia-like meeting of gun-toting gangsters?
No guns, but the weapon was GUILT
All denounced the relationship
with passionate conviction
An affront to the very core
of their Jewish past, present and future.

Kurt was given a choice: keep the girl and lose the family
A choiceless choice
He chose the family

Black and White Cookie | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

Did you know?

When illness strikes
controlling your life.
When pain is a nasty daily visitor
holding you tight
in the grip of old age.

When what remains
are aging memories
of a partner loved
of children young and once dependent
of adults who now need you less
while you yearn to be needed more.

Some turn to faith as a consoling force.
But I have burned those bridges long ago.
For God is no longer a redeeming force.

Yet I have found a way
To console my day
To turn my winter years
Into May.
I look to poetry
In its magical world
And find words
Which give life to my soul.

While writing I am free
So very briefly
from daily Angst
from memories of a past lost.
And I hope again for a new May.
When at my computer
I find the path
once covered with grief
to live now in the present day.

Return to Washington Heights | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

Is it self-indulgence to think
our personal life-stories
Have relevance for others?
Are we perhaps only healing ourselves?
when we reach into the reservoir
of a past life-altering experience?
Can we serve this-up to others who
Must and should empathize with us?

So it is when I reach into my Holocaust past.,
marked forever by these events.

Nowhere is this more evident
than in Washington Heights,
Manhattan’s upper west side neighborhood
where the largest number of German Jewish Holocaust
survivors in America lived and tried to rebuild their lives.
But never forgetting the loved ones left behind as
a painful testament to the guilt that hovers over them
by their very act of survival

I have returned to Washington heights
to the Washington Height’s streets of 22 years ago.
I marvel again at the beauty of Fort Tryon Park
which majestically overlooks the splendid Hudson River.
I hear German accented English, even Yiddish and again,
as in my childhood, am struck by the humor of many New York Jews,
mixing Americanisms with German regionalism.
(The Manheim German is so very different from that of the Berliner)
I see 80 year-old Mrs. Dingfelder from a small Black Forest farm
village,
sitting, in in a lawn chair, in front of her 6th floor apartment
building, quite lost.
(memories of the trauma of the past or simply old age?)
I hear ghetto blasters in front of her, as if they were not attached
to the new
Spanish speaking resident passers-bye.
There goes Mr. Marks entering the kosher bakery.
I need not go inside to know what he is ordering:
the family’s braided Chale for the Sabbath.
I continue to be touched by Mr. Simon walking to Saturday services,
without money and with his apartment keys hanging from his belt.

On Friday services, I stand with others who chant the Kaddish,
mourning for the dead.
I– for the grandparents who died in Gurs, a French Nazi
Concentration Camp.

I– for the Communist uncle shot in the streets of Karlsruhe by Nazi thugs.
I for the Polish uncle, sister-in-law and their two young children
who died in a cattle car on the road to Auschwitz.

I finally enter the memory of our old apartment with a view of the
majestic George Washington Bridge–
a symbol of the freedom America accorded my parents and me as their
son
who could live, without the threat of starvation, isolation and gas
chambers.

I am home… and yet a home never quite released from memories of
those Jewish immigrants, torn from their comfortable Jewish/German
lives
faced with the challenge of rebuilding lives in New York’s
Washington heights
and raising a son with only them as a connection to family lost.

Perfection | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

Was it a blessing or a curse to have parents
whose faith left no doubt that God was always with them?
Looking over their shoulder like a trusted friend
guiding them as they raised their son

But I was the gay son not perfect in their world
I was lost to them
in trying to live within their spiritual values.

Did I let them down?
Taking drugs to feel less imperfect?
Having unprotected sex at 14 to feel loved
By those who also lived imperfect lives?
Who hated a pompous God
unwilling to make room for them.

What pathetic irony: I needed my parents love
their willingness not to be blind-sided
by a faith that turned their hearts cold
blinding them from looking me in the eyes.