Karen Poppy

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.