In Memoriam: Gertrud Kolmar, 1943

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Immer sind wir Blaubarts Frauen.

Whistling past this cemetery in the dark
Where most of your generation lie interred,
I think of Francis Bacon’s jeu d’esprit:
“Kings are God’s playfellows.” The great bone-park
Chuckles and rattles as if the dead had heard.
“Kings play at dangerous games.” They all agree,

We are proof that kings play a very dangerous game.
In a match against God, someone is bound to get hurt!
What was He doing, the morning they took you away,
For having a loving heart and a Jewish name,
While a king with a swastika badge on a brown shirt
Captained the opposite team and called the play?

Where was He, too, that night you mused in the dark,
Dog-tired, half-starved, the Terror just closing round,
Taking incredible comfort from St. Just’s joke:
“Men perish that God may live”? Did His Covenant Ark
Go before you to Auschwitz, his ram’s-horn sound
Till the gas-chambers of Jericho breached and broke?

When they knocked you down and a jackboot kicked in your teeth,
Did you sing with Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust”?
Or did you remember St. Just and the poem you made,
That gay, that terrible poem confronting death:
“We have always been Bluebeard’s wives; we always must!”?
That was your answer to God and games he played.

We were all contracted, but we discovered instead
Once married that God was Bluebeard after all.
He had left on a journey, trusting us with a Key
To his universe. Alone in His double bed,
We wondered about that cupboard in the hall,
A forbidden closet, like the forbidden tree.

He had kissed us with lips that curved like scimitars,
Blood-red they smiled out of that blue-black beard.
The huge male bush hung over us like a threat;
Yet we knew we loved and were loved. The universe
Rang with His power and His love. When He disappeared
The Key was our comfort, His kiss a sign that He would not forget.

For love was our shield; love was our talisman;
Love was our guide the day we decided to use the Key.
So we crept to His closet door and opened it just a crack;
And there we saw clearly the whole condition of man.
Now we know the meaning of Bluebeard’s love, and we
Quake in His castle of dread—pray that he will not come back.

But to whom do we pray? There is nobody else to hear.
Bluebeard is bound to return; He has heard our prayer.
He will come loving and smiling; ask for that blood-spotted key
While we cower in the bed of despair, that last, lost outpost of fear.
But you, you alone will stand up; you will teach us to dare;
You will teach us that calm at the worst, when the spirit goes free.

Whistling past your cemetery in the black
Storm of our century of hate and dread,
I, who have lived in shelter all of my days,
Bring you, before the Lord of the Keys gets back,
Word from all those still doomed to those who are already dead,
Those able to recognize all and yet still able to praise.

Stand back now, Azrael: I have a few moments yet.
You can have this carcass when I have had my say.
Yet what can I say for her, who said nothing at all
But dressed for her death like a bride: who paid the debt
Of the ancient doom of her race without dismay;
Who went to that doom as though to a festival?

All we can do, perhaps, is not to forget.

(Bluebeard is back! I have heard his step in the hall.)

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