Reunion in Nowy Dwór 2019 – a poem by Nancy Himel

Reunion in Nowy Dwór, 2019


For three hundred years, some of us stood watch
over the bodies, then bones of your Jewish ancestors.
For three hundred years, we watched the people
who came to visit them, relatives and friends 
from our town, from Warsaw, and places even further
away. We watched them leave small stones atop us
pebbles of covenant and remembrance they kissed
with cold lips and fingers raw from sorrow and wind.

For three hundred years, by the elbowed shores 
of the Vistula and Narew, we weathered storms
sunned and faded, shared our landed border with 
our Gentile neighbors, divided by only a fence that 
did nothing to keep the essences of graveyard flowers 
away. We stared either forward or up, our faces
heritage proud, carved with life songs and stories
of the beloveds below us, with biblical passages
and poetries of blessing of the one God.

And then came the onset of the second great war
and the invasion of our home, the Nazi soldiers
who tore us away to lie and crumble under roads
who ground the bodies and bones of our blesséd 
into asphalt that bore the treads of tanks near the 
tracks of trains that would take their descendants
to Auschwitz to serve, to starve until it was their time 

for gas. And for seventy years we lived in hiding
blinded and buried in dirt and mud, under the crushing 
weight of human tamping in a town where not even one 
Jew of the thousands remained. We were so erased 
from memory, no one knew we were there.

Then in 1988, two sons of two survivors bought our cemetery
home back, emptied it of rubble and waste, erected a fence 
for its protection. In a short miracle, twelve of our eight hundred 
headstones were found, and under pressure from the Christian
populace of Poland, road excavations unearthed over one hundred 
more. And now along a pavered plaza, on two high cement walls
we hang as one community, as resurrected symbols of resilience
our edges are rough and crumbling, some of our faces barely there. 

Townspeople continue to find us, under sidewalks and playgrounds
and they bring us to this new home built on our original resting place.
They lean us against the locked gate to wait for the memorial
caretakers to carry us inside. Some of us come in pieces and wait
in careful piles for wholeness. Behind us, on triangled pages of black
granite, the names of the vanished are incised, four thousand Jews
who inhabited the houses, who ran the businesses in what became
a ghetto prison walled in wood. And when the winds blow in from

Auschwitz, they carry the ash of the ancestors of our visitors
who gather each year in early June to visit our stones, to find
new or forgotten family. And they each bring a stone from 
their homeland, many from Israel, to continue to honor 
the covenant and community their everlasting God made first 
with Moses and then with Joshua and always with the unvanquished
Jews, His chosen people not to be forgotten.

Nancy Himel spent 30 years teaching high school English in the hood near Los Angeles before she retired in August, 2019. Prairie Schooner published one of her poems in 2007, and now that she is a full-time poet, she is hoping more of her work will be published soon. She lives in Tucson, Arizona where she is working on a memoir-in-verse, tentatively titled From Ruach’s Cradle.

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