At the Synagogue Rummage Sale
during Holocaust Remembrance Day
Basement, Butler, Pennsylvania, the gentiles bargaining
for old tallises, worn yarmulkes, a torn challah cover, a stained torah,
a hundred thumbed copies of Anne Frank—
I walk out and past a circle of bat mitzvah-aged girls
and our rabbi, who stops me and asks if I’ll join
in the ritual reading of the victims’ names—
each child-turning-into-an-adult attempting to articulate
all those Polish consonants: last name, first name, where from,
when died, what concentration camp—around and around we read
the only letters left of those for whom there is no memory,
washed ashore from the other side of our speech, all of our objects
discounted downstairs. We mumble into the dusty air
our mispronunciations. And what does it mean
for a child, in some absurd future,
to attempt to sound the name of a perished life?
Does one soul carry the weight of the other soul?
Does the name belong to both sides of the unknown?
To pronounce a Polish name takes a bit of time,
some stuttering, some silence, the knowledge of faltering,
and you do falter, but you speak it through to the end
in this ritual of commemoration until each student
has spoken all the names on their Xeroxed page—
and the rabbi’s voice chants, over the bargainers, the Kaddish,
for all of those who have no one to say Kaddish.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.