The Gossamer Wall: Poems in Witness to the Holocaust

by Micheal O'Siadhail


Neat millions of pairs of abandoned shoes
Creased with mute presence of those whose

Faces both stare and vanish. Which ghetto?
Warsaw, Vilna, Lódz, Riga, Kovno.

Eight hundred dark-eyed girls from Salonica
Bony and sag-breasted singing the Hatikvah

Tread the barefoot floor to a shower-room.
Friedländer, Berenstein, Menasche, Blum.

Each someone's fondled face. A named few.
Did they hold hands the moment they knew?

I’ll change their shame to praise and renown in all
The earth . . . Always each face and shoeless footfall

A breathing memory behind the gossamer wall.



The Holocaust was an eruption building up over two thousand years. Our world stood by as ordinary men became mass murderers. The fall-out of this epochal event continues to affect our world. In trying to face the Holocaust, we stand between the last surviving eyewitnesses and a generation often cut off from the past. How does poetry respond to the extermination camps? After them, what hope is there? These poems bear witness to the Jewish trauma and its meaning for all of us. The fruit of many years of immersion in the testimonies of survivors, The Gossamer Wall is a new departure for Micheal O’Siadhail. In this book-length sequence, he evokes the Holocaust in a stark, narrative style of great intensity.
— John Felstiner, author of Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew, winner of the Truman Capote Prize for Literary Criticism


This is powerful life-affirming poetry which is by turns urgent, reflective, terrified and loving. . . . These are poems that celebrate life, that confront and revitalize the old themes of love, loss, memory and desire and do so in a variety of verse forms. They are tender, vulnerable and defiant.
— Paul Donnelly, Poetry Quarterly Review