[For Nathan Altermann ]
Altermann, sipping wine, reads with a look
Of infinite patience and slight suffering.
When I approach him, he puts down his book,
Waves t the chair beside him like a king,
Then claps his hands, and an awed waiter fetches
Bread, kosher sausage, cake, a chicken's wing,
More wine, some English cigarettes, and matches.
‘Eat, eat,' Altermann says, ‘this is good food.'
Through the awning over us the sunlight catches
His aquiline sad head, till it seems hewed
From tombstone marble. I accept some bread.
I've lunched already, but would not seem rude.
When I refuse more, he feeds me instead,
Heaping my plate, clapping for wine, his eyes
-Expressionless inside the marble head—
Appearing not to notice how the flies
Form a black, sticky icing on the cake.
Thinking of my health now, I visualize
The Aryan snow floating, flake upon flake,
Over the ghetto wall where only fleas
Fed well, and they and hunger kept awake
Under sharp stars, those waiting for release.
Birds had their nests, but Jews nowhere to hide
When visited by vans and black police.
The shekinah rose where a people died,
A pillar of flame by night, of smoke by day.
From Europe then the starved and terrified
Flew. Now their mourner sits in this café.
Telling me how to scan a Hebrew line.
Though my attention has moved far away
His features stay marble and aquiline.
But the eternal gesture of his race
Flowing through the hands that offer bred and wine
Reveals the deep love sealed in the still face.