October 3, 2015

Three Poems By B.B. Riefner: "Saying Kaddish For Myer", "Hollow Cost Museum", "Hope Comes In Strange Packages Cleverly Wrapped"

B. B. Riefner wrote with chalk on blackboards; then, with a 1918 typewriter on tailgates and picnic tables in South America, Europe and Africa.  Today he and his wife live near Washington D.C. with a canine muse and a computer both of which must be fed daily.

 Three Poems for Friends and Family: Met and Unmet
B.B. Riefner

Saying Kaddish For Myer

Kaddish is
A religious obligation
Like practicing scales
Or stitching wounds,
Prayers must be said
For the dead and the loved;
For friends thirty days
But for a parent one day short
Of eleven months.
An ancient custom
That once each day
God must hear the name.
I am told the oldest son
Must pray once each night
Until Kaddish is said.

How can I describe your pride
Without embracing your grief?

By saying Kaddish for Myer.

That polite Jewish boy
Always quiet with good manners
Armed to the teeth
Chasing Pancho Villa
Through dusty Mexico
Coughing up the fire
Of tequila and chilies
Bowing to two peso whores,
Turning brown like old photographs
Holding his rifle aloft
Politely smiling.

By saying Kaddish for Myer

Caught in a thunder storm
Sprinkled with artillery fire
On the river Marne in France,
With humps of un-stirring memories
In front of where he stands
Politely waiting
With bayonet raised
For the Germans to impale themselves
On America’s first finest generation.

Saying Kaddish for Myer
With calf blown off
Lying in the mud
In a pool of excrement
Watching flies race
Away with his blood
Lying politely
Waiting for his nation
To save him and his leg
Allow him to go home
And marry the pretty girl
He saw that day in Shul.

I am saying Kaddish for Myer
Who worked thirty years
For the forces that
Blew off his calf.

I am saying Kaddish for all the Myers
Waiting in knee deep mud
In the mud and puke
Waiting to catch the evil
Of the world
All the demons of the night
On the end of a gun
On one thin blade.

I am saying Kaddish for Myer
And all his comrades
Weathering the Great Depression
And keeping their honor
Growing old
Staying out of the way
Because they did not understand
Any more than you and I
But were unable to cry out.

I am saying Kaddish for Myer
Standing on the same road
And this road does not bend
For anyone
And the lights of the town
Have all gone out … Forever.

I am saying Kaddish for my friend
Both of us
Choking, twisting, sobbing
In our pain
Me in hotel rooms
Not yet lit.

And I am saying Kaddish
Saying Kaddish in my dark

We all say Kaddish
To the night
And the demons of our darkness


The visitors move along the ramps and corridors
As trusting as their ancestors
Isolated by ignorance or apathies
Through narrow passageways
The thousand photographic faces
Lean down from all sides
Their muted screams and cries
Swept away by time
Erased by i-Phones or Reese’s Pieces.

I have viewed those bins
Stuffed with glass eyes
Artificial limbs akimbo
Shoes sorted by sex
All super imposed
On my relatives’ photographs
At attention in SS uniforms
Peering at the burning synagogues
Packed with sub-human trash

There are no lies or exaggerations
No sound tracks, no vocal narratives
Yet there is background music
Whimpers and pleadings, promises, and prayers
A dog barking
a train whistle
And of course the machine gun clock
Announcing another score of bodies
Falling through space and history
Into unmarked neglected graves.
And so History will be repeated.
One day this will all happen again
Will it be in Christ’s name… again?
Or Allah… or Whomever…again?


Grandfather was born in Russian Poland.
His life was the soil
Until Hitler’s tanks arrived.
Then he fought until a Nazi bullet
Paused in a kidney.
A doctor operated
In the field
In dim light.
He took the kidney
Sans anesthesia.
Then, Grandfather was sat aside
And watched to see
If he would live or die.

When Hitler’s gray mice fled
He took his daughter in his arms
And new wife in tow
To walk over the Alps to Israel,
Letting the child suck and bite
His lips when she sought
Nourishment or to slake her thirst.

In Israel, The Promised Land,
He dug out reluctant stumps,
Drained snake infested swamps,
Bent like a human Hebrew letter
Planted by hand dawn to dark,
Fought the Arabs and afterwards
Planted grapes without wrath.

He has earned his future.
Now great grandfather’s life
Is wrapped in hugs
From his two great grandchildren.
Each kiss and hug
He collects each day
Reaffirms the Russian soil
That still runs through his veins.

~B.B. Riefner

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