Karen Poppy has work published in numerous literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her poetry chapbooks Crack Open/Emergency (2020), and Our Own Beautiful Brutality (2021) are both published by Finishing Line Press. Her poetry chapbook, Every Possible Thing, is published by Homestead Lighthouse Press (2020). Born in Burlingame, Karen Poppy grew up in Foster City and attended San Mateo High School. Now an attorney licensed in California and Texas, she lives in Marin County, but not before coming nearly full circle: she lived in Burlingame during her last year of law school, took a job at a San Mateo law firm once she passed the California Bar Exam, and one of her close friends is her former childhood nextdoor neighbor from Foster City, poet Julie Weiss.
Poem on Belonging
My paternal grandmother Esther’s family was from Galicia (a giant, vital Jewish community on the border of what is now Ukraine and Poland), and a number of family members lived there, in Drohobycz (also spelled in English as Drohobych). All but one, a cousin, was murdered during the Holocaust. Before that, many family members and other members of the community had left at various points due to the progroms. My family ended up ultimately in Brooklyn.
Here is my poem about my cousin who survived the Holocaust by walking on bloodied feet from Ukraine to Russia. It was originally published in Blue Nib with three other, unrelated poems.
THE TRAIL HE MADE IN THE SNOW The trail He made In the snow: One long line Of blood from Drohobycz to Russia. Not those Circular paths He made As a boy. Clean and White Along with Paw prints of His dog, By then, Long dead. His parents, Young sisters, Aunts, uncles, Shot Just before He escaped. In that forest, Same spot Below birch Trees He used to Peel Of their bark, Of their skin. Write love Letters On them To an Imaginary Sweetheart, Not knowing Anyone real To write to In his small World. My grandmother, Esther, My father's mother, Said to me, “He had such a chip On his shoulder!” It shocked me. “Grandma, His whole family Died and he Walked on bloody Feet all the way To Russia. He was forced Into the Russian Army.” “It was my family Too,” she said. “Grandma, My grandma, Murdered!” She cried, And I, I felt shame, Red stained Like that Blood In the snow, But deeper Because I had also Seen his sisters. Somehow, My mind Brought them To me. Somehow, Their memory Is seared Into my Genetic code: Clean and White Nightgowns. Fear. Men with Shadowed Cheeks and shadowed Eyes. Cheekbones Like razors. Fiery torches. Violence, Tearing. Their mother, Screaming. Their father, I don't see him. Pushed into The forest. My entire Family there. In the dark. Except for This cousin, Who escaped, Who etched With his feet Into snow One long line Of blood from Drohobycz to Russia. Birch bark Crumbles. Snow melts Away. But all That is Written Remains.
Copyright © 2022 by Karen Poppy. This poem originally appeared in Blue Nib. Used with permission of the author.