Prague

Prague, I spent a month with you
and your medieval spires, your Jewish Quarter
that meant living space not one-fourth of the city
that gave rise to the legend of the Rabbi Loew’s golem to right all wrongs,
that blob of clay I can now buy as a keychain or paper weight
or swipe the menu of the Restaurant Golem as a souvenir.
I’m sure I’m not the first to do that since the two kosher restaurants
are expensive, certainly cost more than the other places
where I could order pork with my pork.
Prague, what should I make of your Altneu synagogue,
where I could imagine Rabbi Loew davening
but instead now ogle German teens and wonder
which of their ancestors killed mine?
Prague, you honor your Jewish dead well
with maintained graves, but they’re roped off
from the tourists and I have to use my zoom lens
to capture all those crazy symbols—the deer,
the fish, the mouse, the flower that cuts short a life.
Prague, Franz Kafka’s ghost revs up his uncle’s motorbike
and the tires screech and rumble on cobblestone
from New Town and his insurance company
to the Golden Lane where he wrote his novels in places
where alchemists once plied their trade in service to the castle.
Prague, you allow his specter to roam freely into the ‘20s cafes
among the Muchas and the concert halls, past the now faded
street signs in old Fraktur. Prague, you rein in the new
with Tuesday weddings and locks of love along a Vltava
bridge. Maybe because you’re so busy entertaining tourists that you
accuse me of downloading something illegal, you weren’t specific,
and cut off my Internet, giving me no choice but to write poetry
about the beetle that attacked me at Terezin, which is actually a nice change
from your trams and subways, always crowded with people
who cradle their pooches, women with thick ankles
built up from all the cobblestoned streets
just to find a working ATM so they can go into Tesco and read
all the signs in English, because they sure don’t want to hear
my pathetic attempts at Czech and will screech if they hear
my college Russian. Prague, your ex-pat poets along Neruda Street,
devotees of Shakespeare & Co., perch where they can
to sing their songs. They sing into the night of the city
that was not bombed, but all the same lost its Jews.

 

What Lies Beneath

Peel back the Czech veneer
and find sharp corners of Teutonic
commands, shouting in red, black, and white.

Bite into klobása, hold a glass of Staropramen.
Peer into shop windows and marvel
at the Czech-mined garnet, hand-blown glass.

Clap at dusk, Old Market sundial shadows
mask Soviet shame for a little while
old refuseniks disavow knowledge of Russian.

Listen as street-cleaners mop up the latest Vltava
flood, wagon wheels like shod horses delivering
men in cravats and women with velvet purses to Dvořák.

Trace the gap in the asphalt at Terezin. It takes the shape
of a foot, caught forever in cobblestone mortar.
A foot that escaped the wagons rumbling to the Eger

with dead bodies, sick bodies, no-will-to-live bodies.
A foot that ran past the fig trees to the hidden
synagogue to say kaddish under Star of David frescoes.

 

Barbara Krasner

Barbara Krasner holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MA in History from William Paterson University, where she teaches in the English and History departments. She spent a month in Prague studying fiction and Jewish history.

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