Poetica  Publishing  Company
                   

Subtitle


2022 Miriam Rachimi Micro Poetry Chapbook
First Place Winner
Miss Emma Lazarus Enlightens the World 
by Barbara Krasner

How I Began

Emma Lazarus, July 1849

By July well-to-do New Yorkers left the city
for their country homes—clean air would protect
them from creeping cholera down near Five Points.

But Mother, pregnant, hoped for her first boy
after three girls and Father did not want to put
her or him, whom they’d name Eleazar, in jeopardy.

No hoofs on Union Square cobblestone, no
hissing of gaslights. Father and servants insisted
the girls be quiet. Mother must have her rest

in her four-poster, mahogany bed, the brocaded
drapes drawn over slightly-opened windows. Mother’s
womb gave notice. She called for the Nathan women

and the family doctor. But the son
did not arrive. I did. They named me
Emma, Emma Lazarus.


Somber Streak

Josephine Lazarus, 1864

You rush to Father’s knee with your sheath
of scribbles and beam as he reads aloud
your crude lyric outbursts —tear-stained violets—

while the rest of us
flounce around the house
tending to his comfort.

You, the anointed one—
strange distinction
for the middle child.

You live within your
barricades of books
and Greek-inspired porcelain dolls.

Broken vows, broken hearts, broken
lives—this is the core of your writing.
None of it original.


The Jewish Cemetery at Newport

Emma, 1867

          But ah! what once has been shall be no more?
               The groaning earth in travail and in pain
          Brings forth its races, but does not restore
               And the dead nations never rise again.

                      —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport”

Mr. Longfellow: You took it upon yourself
to wander through the Jewish cemetery,
through the inscribed stones,
liberating Sephardic ghosts, including
my own great-great uncle, Moses Seixas,
for paradise.
You know not the meaning of the names—

Lopez, Rivera, Touro, and even Seixas—
that catapulted Newport and my family
to gold-filled pouches and bank vaults.

Mr. Longfellow: The synagogue, and not
the cemetery, is the center of Jewish life.
You found its doors closed. Had they been open,
your eyes would have rested upon
the perpetual lamp, an undying radiance. Pews
the place for prayers from the freed slaves of Egypt.

Mr. Longfellow: I realize I am many years
your junior, but someone needs to enlighten you.
The sacred shrine is holy yet.


Emma and the Sage of Concord

Josephine Lazarus, 1869

          The epochs of our life are not in the visible facts,
          but in the silent thoughts by the way-side as we walk.
                        —Ralph Waldo Emerson

How Emma gushes over Emerson, believes
his word is a beacon, “nay, more”
her guide through storm and struggle.
Heed my warning, he is Reliance.

Take a walk in the world, Emma,
the epochs of your life await:
unstained June sky of youth, broken
moments of sorrow, rain-washed
slopes of longing, charcoal clouds
upon ruined fields, pangs of surprise,
new interests awakened with each sunrise,
groping arms to lift you higher.

Let your words shine.
Let your words influence.


Rhetoric

Emma, 1870

What if I let down my hair and let
it tumble down my back as I lean
forward over my writing desk?

What if I wrote in my dressing gown
without the whale bone and laces,
not caring a whit about calling cards in my purse.

What if I sneaked an orange from the kitchen
and did not join the family at breakfast? Then
no one would criticize my ink-stained fingers.

What if I could just stare out the window
at my cherry tree and conjure up the words
of great poets and call them my own?

Then I’d be accused of copying the masters
and having no voice of my own. How can I
when it has been tethered to corsets of tired phrases?



Black-Bordered Stationery

Emma, 1874

I can never be a child again,
never hold my mother’s hand, curl
up in her lap or bring her English tea with milk,
three sugar cubes dropped with polished
tongs I borrow from the kitchen maid.

I can never read my work
to my mother, her arms
full of Annie & Agnes as she
quiets us all for the nightly performance.

I can never show my mother
the new handmade nightgowns I bought
for only $2.95 or share the program
from the Salvini matinee.

I take out my stationery and
edge the border in black. We have given up
Judaic tradition for the Knickerbocker Club
and the Union League. Our lapels are whole.

My seventy first cousins attend the funeral,
one—a reverend—presides.
We do not open the casket.

As we set out in carriages to Beth Olom—
it was Mother’s wish to be buried on consecrated ground—
two thoughts occur. Father is next. And then I.

I shall never marry. My words, propagate
like children. Do not allow me to be forgotten.


The Jewish Question

Emma, Spring 1882

Since news of the Czar’s assassination, Jews
have swarmed to New York. The refuse of Russia,
filth-encrusted faces, threadbare clothing, they need help
but few give it. Like my own family generations before, refugees
from Portugal, it is my duty to rescue them from poverty,
see they get jobs, get schooling, get settled.

They huddle on Ward’s Island, isolated, unsettled.
They speak no English, only that bastardized German spoken by Jews
of the Pale. Without proper language, proper tools, poverty
will stick to them like their groping children, grasping for Russia
and the homes they knew. Whole families now refugees,
clamoring for someone they can trust to help.

I have wealth, I have family, I have words to help
them break away from vacant walls, see them settled
into homes here and across the country, refugees
perhaps even once more to Palestine, ancestral home of Jews
before the Diaspora, before the Pale, before the Russia
that limited their livelihoods and futures to poverty.

Henry George’s book, Progress and Poverty,
proved to me I cannot sit back. Industrialized nations must help
and I, the daughter of prosperity, contribute to conditions in Russia.
With my pen, I can write letters to employers, to landlords, settle
these wretched people, my own people, the wandering Jews
cast out of yet another country, once again refugees.

I have my fur muff while they wear rags, the refugees
huddle for warmth, speak their strange language of poverty
and no observer would know we’re all Jews
of Diasporic circumstance. Many tell me not to help,
let the philanthropists play. But I am unsettled,
my pen must instruct, do not return them to Russia.

Pogrom death awaits them in Mother Russia—
the people no one wants. I will find these tortured refugees
training and jobs. They can earn money and once settled,
share their learning, release themselves from the grip of poverty.
Rabbi Gottheil nods at me, egging me on to help
and I know I have no choice. I am a Jewess.

So much to be done to help the Jews from Russia—
they banish thoughts of all other subjects, refugees—
I plunge into my past, my future. I am not willing to settle.


The Order of Things

Emma, Fall 1883

Don’t tell me what to write. I’ll create
in my own time, my own way.
But then you make an unfair move—
You mention the refugees.
Façade of confidence drops away.
At home, the huddled masses crowd my mind,
until the calm tenor of the Statue,
that Mother of Exiles, intervenes.
I dip my pen, scratch away, the form alights.
She speaks, her words roll along the shore,
go out to sea and call the poor to us both.
My head clears, fourteen lines on the page:
The New Colossus—
I am spent.


Now That You Are Leaving Us

Josephine Lazarus, November 1887

You lie on the divan, clouded eyes
to the ceiling. You want
the drapes closed. Your unceasing
commentary turns to poetry, Rome,
the progress of your cancer.
You have never been more brilliant.

Your laudanum slur requests your
Bon Secours nurse and Beethoven,
Symphony No. 9. One of us plays. You spew
poems the treble and bass inspire. Another sister
writes them down.

“See the flowers Mrs. Cleveland has sent?” you
implore the doctors. “They refresh me.”

They cannot revive your wasted silhouette.


Emma Enlightening the World

Not like the brazen giant in New York Harbor,
not as large as Emerson’s family described,
her lips silenced but for the ivy-covered
plaque at her petite feet.
I’d think her grave would loom larger,
I’d think there’d be directions.
I want to shout, “This is Emma, the Emma!”
She is the one who opened the golden door,
She is the one who gave the statue her voice.
I snap photos of her name and situation,
the now-famous sonnet.
I place a rock on her headstone,
recite a prayer. A moment of silence.
A homeless dog barks, protecting the gates of sunset.