The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 18 no. 1


Irena Klepfisz

Her Birth
Warsaw, 1941


but the father whispered
       that the doctors whispered
       choose one   choose now
              this has gone on too long
              three days too long
              so kill the baby
              kill the baby   oh so so long

and the doctors were ready   set
and the father was ready   set
       and so   the mother didn’t die
and the baby just wouldn’t die
       (to spite them all   inside and out)
       and    not very much later
       the mother whispered:
       look how ugly it is   the head all squeezed
       so squashed  
       its face so scratched   so   oh so ugly
       and does it have 10 fingers?
       and does it have 10 toes?


but then   the father changed
       so changed   oh so changed
       and began to love it
       and how he loved it   so so so much
that he let it sit on his shoulders
       and ducked   ducked down
       as he walked through the doorway
       and it would laugh   laugh
       so high  
                     so high  


i imagine   babcia and dziadek
       clucking   how clever she is
       watching  how she’d sit
       on the floor   in the kitchen
       so content   to pull the potatoes
       from the burlap bag   right by the sink
       one  one  one  at a time  
       almost like counting  
       look how busy she is   oh  so so so clever
       taki cud  this miracle of a child
       how lucky to have it

       a nes   shhhhhh   a nes

                     and the days flew by


and then   the potatoes were gone
and  there was only the street
       there was noise  and it was quiet
       and the aunt or friend or someone
       not the father  and  not the mother
       who would do such a terrible thing
       and leave her   there on the street
       in the noise   and the quiet?

              today no one knows the name or spot
              and who could find it anyway
              with everything gone
       everyone gone   and what had it done
       what had it done   to be left  
       standing and crying    as they watched
       terrified and glad   for they’d concocted
       the perfect plan   and so when it cried
       it was  more real   so more real  
       than they could have hoped for

and then a woman  or nun
       found her  and took her away
       with other found children
and i’ve heard that she cried  for a long time
       she cried   how she cried
       with no tatush  no mama  no babcia or dziadek
       with only the nuns  grim lipped
       who watched her   for germs
       watched her   and her
       and the sick children   rocking
       and banging   their heads against the bars
       who cried   and cried  
       and how she cried   with them
       and how she cried


and i was told  how he once came
       and said he had chocolate
       brought chocolate for her  just for her
       only her    whom he had wanted to kill
       and who had sat on his shoulders
       so high   oh so high
       and now said    he had brought chocolate
       just for her   only for her
       and how the nun   all black habit   and dry thin lips
       said if you come   again   i’ll put it out
       on the street   on the street i’ll put it out
       into the noise   and quiet

so he never came again
       and babcia and dziadek
       they were taken
       and the aunt   she died
       in a hospital bed
       and later on   he died on a rooftop  
       was shot
       was killed  
       he died  

       and that was that

       and that was that


and eventually the mother came and got her
and i heard   they both survived

but that’s a very different matter
       (though not unrelated)
       as to how she was born
       and how he had said
       kill her   kill her
       and how   she was stubborn
       and wouldn’t die.