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Rabbi Auschwitz: Poems of the Shoah

by Louis Daniel Brodsky

Ghost Ship over Poland

A hazy vapor hovers in his psyche’s sky,
A dense heat inversion,
Thick with the stench of burning flesh,
Visible to his blind-drunk sight.
He’s a patch-eyed pirate,
Who once defied Nazi vessels
On the high seas, just east of Eden,
Separating Nod from Terra Incognita.

Dead-end July’s egregious heat
Turns his dreams from a Hades
Into a sun unfurling colossal flares
That scorch sleep, set his breathing aflame,
Reigniting bedsheets he’s spent all night
Wrapping, like a shroud, about his body,
By now charred beyond identification
Even by his waking self.

He hovers in his defunct psyche,
Like hazy vapors in an Auschwitz sky
Perforated by the eyes of a million lost spirits
Who’ve risen or are just now rising
Through rumbling oven stacks —
Roman candles shooting clots of human ash.
Amidst this polluted dislocation, he sees himself,
A ghost still searching for a home.

No longer owning a living soul,
He boards his skull-and-crossbones ship
Bobbing in the hazy ocean above Poland,
Hoping to sail the open seas.
But he’s been stalled here fifty years,
Waiting for a breath of fresh breeze
To billow his shroud-sheets,
Fill his incinerated spirit with the will to live.

Use the player below to listen to Louis Daniel Brodsky read this poem.



Rabbi Auschwitz is not so much a book about the historical Shoah as it is about the psyche of "a Jew who died fifty years too soon" and who now considers his pen "an oracular divining rod" that may or may not "stave off spiritual asphyxia." There's no question but that Louis Daniel Brodsky is haunted, his mind finding Shoah equivalents even in St. Louis crows eating carrion and in worms sliming across asphalt on a warm February day. He is "afflicted with living," as are the many survivors whose stories he enters. With his title character, "It's all about the darkness of the mantra/Which takes him away from himself," and as we listen to the best poems here and observe "toxic psychosis" that still desires a reason for being, we are appalled, complicit, nauseated, and gratefully ambivalent as we, by way of Brodsky's pounding and insistent voice, "survive forgetting" to remember.
— William Heyen, author of Shoah Train: Poems and finalist for the National Book Award

As the last survivors fade from us, Louis Daniel Brodsky summons up an extraordinary composite voice of "those afflicted with living amidst the still-smoldering ashes of the past." For many assimilated, "only in old age has it become imperative" like "a ghost still searching for a home" to meditate on the Holocaust. We're indebted to him for his imaginative feat, his nightmarish weave of anger, guilt and broken memory.
— Micheal O'Siadhail, author of The Gossamer Wall: Poems in Witness to the Holocaust and Globe

Rabbi Auschwitz: Poems of the Shoah will become an important and enduring part of the literature of the Holocaust, and a copy should be on the shelves of readers of all backgrounds. It is an important and powerful statement by a gifted writer in our midst.
St. Louis Jewish Light

L.D. Brodsky has published somewhere between sixty and seventy books, most of them poetry collections and a notable handful of these devoted to the Holocaust, including The Thorough Earth, Falling from Heaven, Gestapo Crows and The Eleventh Lost Tribe.  Brodsky's emphasis, especially, in the later works, is on survivors and the children of survivors, in a contemporary setting, haunted by memory and imagination. . . . Echoing his 1992 collection, Gestapo Crows, Brodsky frames this three-part collection between a prologue ("Bestial Desire") and an epilogue ("Crows' Convention") that focus on the image of the crow — that dark, strutting, foreboding scavenger, so like a ruthless uniformed stormtrooper, ending the collection on a cautionary note — for if it happened once, who’s to say it won’t again?  Certainly not a Holocaust survivor:  "You only think they only scavenge rabbits and squirrels."
Main Street Rag

Some wounds take long to heal, and some are more vicious about the process than others. Rabbi Auschwitz: Poems of the Shoah is a collection of poetry from Louis Daniel Brodsky, going after his own recovery with a good deal of venom about the world, to himself, and what has happened to his people. As poignant and thought provoking as it is entertaining, Rabbi Auschwitz is a strong pick for poetry collections.
Midwest Poetry Review

The poems in Rabbi Auschwitz all have the vertiginous, off-balance quality of nightmares. The very title of the collection combines two violently antithetical ideas, creating an impression of something shameful and forbidden, in the yoking together of the image of a Jewish spiritual guide and teacher with that of a brutal, sadistic death camp. . . . This is very powerful stuff, offensive if coming from some shrill anti-Semite, but bitter and ironic coming from a Jewish poet.
The Potomac

In Rabbi Auschwitz, I felt the omniprescence of human inhumanity. It was simultaneously profane. Profound. Penetrating. Phobic. The panoramic pathos was often overwhelming. Thanks for writing it.
— T.J. Birkenmeier, author of Shoe Town and The Head Jobs

To read Charles Adès Fishman's interview of Mr. Brodsky, about his Holocaust writing, please click here.