An explanatory note regarding my poems: 

The poems included here are ‘found poems.’ Each is based on an academic talk or presentation that I attended. What I’ve done in each case is to jot down words and phrases that interest me, as I listen to the talk. Afterwards, I set about versifying the words and phrases, ‘converting’ them into a poem. I make a point of appending the name of the presenter and the date of the presentation to each poem, by way of acknowledgment. As for the finished product— the reader is free to judge the merits, such as they are, and to determine what ‘authorship’ means in the case of such ‘found poetry.’

Marvin Marcus


Dead Jews and Agentic Shift 

Dead Jews and Agentic Shift
The Jews were exterminated by
Guys with beer bellies ordered
To shoot Jews in the neck
In the neck is mercy killing
Is what they were told
Every day for two years
They killed Jews
Got up killed Jews got drunk
Got up the next day killed Jews
Got drunk and on and on
Twenty percent refused to kill
Some got yelled at some got beaten
Some were sent to the Russian front
Fifty percent were psychopaths—
They enjoyed killing Jews
Think of the Milgram shock experiments
And the eighty-five percent rate of
Compliance with giving lethal dosages
There were Jew rescuers too
Twenty percent were in the resistance
Seventy percent had Jewish friends
Eighty percent came from large families
Some felt guilty that they didn’t rescue more
Back to Milgram and the
Question of the authority figure
Take the Good Samaritan experiment—
Hurrying past the person in distress
Because they were told to do so
If you want good policemen
Reward fairness
If you want a good hospital
A good school a good business—
You get the idea
Israeli soldiers know about this
And so what we need is
Trust in the process stake-holders
Pro-social hierarchies and
Some sort of ombudsman

Inspired by a lecture given by David Blumenthal, professor from Emory University at Washington U on November 16, 2016.


Back to top

Noah, his Ark, and Dry Land

Replica arks by the way
Can be found in Frostburg Maryland—
One of which has four floors and an elevator
Noah’s didn’t
This ark image features
In addition to the last rock on earth
A tiger with a cub in her mouth
And a dog beneath a pine being
Pelted by torrential rain
Genesis omits an account of humanity
Locked outside the ark— God’s plan
And of no concern to Noah
What of those inside the ark?
What of Noah’s wife?
What of the family cat, which
Seems to be blind?
Noah’s wife prayed for yet more rain
Saw landfall as a threat, a portent of
Earthbound misery
But the rain let up and the ark came to rest
Emptied out
And the earth was reborn,
A rainbow signaling God’s covenant
Or so the story goes
Land and water— such a tiresome binary
But God’s arc had unified all
In a curvature of time and a
Covenant of man and climate
But a chimerical God would have had
Time on his hands and a healthy
Sense of humor
And so earthbound Noah picks up
Where he left off
Eats animals
Stares at rainbows and wonders
What they are
Noah has a pet unicorn
Which he does not eat
He has forgotten how to build things
But does recall the stench of his floating zoo
Noah eats more animals, then more
He knows they will not eat him
Noah awaits instruction from
A silent God
Instructions are not forthcoming
Free of any binding covenant,
Noah orders his sons to find some
Ladies and get to work on fruitful
Noah bottles the fruit of the vine
And gets blind drunk
Legend has it that a lion had
Bitten off his private parts
Hence the outsourced reproduction plan
Noah lived on for centuries
Doing God-knows-what
The deluge was supposed to purge the world
And improve upon the human tribe
Did it?
God knows
All that matters is
What happened inside the ark
What did all those critters do?
Where was the kitchen?
Who cooked, who cleaned up,
Who shoveled the shit?
Why did the waters have to recede?
What did we do to deserve landfall?
We watch the skies—
Fearing the deluge
Praying for the deluge

J. J. Cohen February 8, 2018

Back to top

Medin on Kafka

Kafka died before being famous
Others made him famous
In death he was discovered
Auden discovered him during the war
In the postwar he was all the rage—
The Holocaust helped—
A Farsi translation came out
Borges came on board
The Soviets too
And a Latvian poet to boot
Kafka is a fixture
To say the least
The biography in three fat volumes
Says something
But I am here to discuss how writers
From Hungary China and Chile
Appropriate Kafka
The Hungarian favored a literature of
Rain mud and allegory
He writes of peasants whores mechanics
And smokers
Idiocy abounds
Together with a strange dog
And a mind dangling its nerve endings
The Hungarian loved Kafka
Loved The Castle
Loved everything about Kafka
The Chinese writer survived
The Cultural Revolution and turned to
Unpredictable fiction—
Fables of subterranean creatures
Mythical ancestors
Figures trapped in the sand—
Authorship entirely up for grabs
The Chilean writer is a post-boom itinerant
Whose fame came late
Whose protagonists are readers and poets—
One a daughter one a murdered son
One has a liver ailment and mortality dread—
Death-bed writings inspired by
Spanish translations of Kafka
A mouse protagonist appears
Then a rat policeman
A nuclear cloud looms on the horizon
And Kafka is the sole survivor—
His final words a slap at Neruda
Kafka has the last laugh
And we laugh along with him

Inspired by Daniel Medin Matheson Lecture
February 26, 2018


Back to top

Ibn Gairol: Vulture in a cage

The poet favored images of
A distant dove
A caged vulture—
Angry impulses one might say
In an otherwise unknown life
The poet was an orphan
Abandoned embittered
A drinker of wine
With a nasty tongue that
Functioned in Arabic and Greek
A logician literatus philosopher
With angst retooled as verse
Verse with balance with order
With jasper-colored lightning
In a spring garden
Verse dripping with blood
Biblical words and a forbidden tattoo
Verse that hinted of myrrh
But suffered from a green disease
An inflammation
A distortion of conventions
Verse that read like interrupted sleep
Heavy eyes fashioned of loops, of hooks
And atop its shorn head— a turban
Then a screaming girl appeared, screaming of
A strange rose in the Book of Samuel
Verses too on leg boils sickly flowers
Shamed women beaten by crazed husbands
Inspired by the Talmud and its labyrinthine
Arguments admonitions rules and lists
The poet was a master of vituperation
Alone self-righteous self-pitying
Addressing an imaginary friend—
A despondent sixteen year-old
Then addressing God— an I and Thou
Chat in resplendent Hebrew
The poet was known to
Stare at heaven and earth
And the soul itself
His body was a tomb a vile mass
Yet it called forth erotic phrases
That promised ecstasy while yielding
Its opposite
The poet knew this all too well:
The body is weak and wisdom
Is a great peak—
Its infinite grains of sand heaped up
To the heavens—
A palace with a great dome
Canals pure water
Spices birds and fronds—
A living garden vast and eternal
And here the verse ends

Inspired by Raymond Scheindlin, JTS, February 27, 2017

* Back to top

Psalm 82
Gods die
An oxymoron
Yet gods die
Near Ugarit in a cycle of texts
One was masticated
Masticated by the god of death
Masticated to death
Others were dismembered
Many dead gods
What then of Psalm 82?
It begins with Elohim—
A Big Elohim and
Little Elohims
Big speaks to Little
In the second verse
And again in the fifth
A coherence in eight verses
And five parts
A council rules the cosmos
In verse one
Ruled by a god— Big Elohim—
Let us call him Jimmy
Jimmy addresses the Little Elohims
In verses two to four
Be just he says
But they don’t listen
As in verse five and so
They are condemned to death
In verse seven
One and eight form an inclusio—
An envelope
A parameter
Five is the turning point
With Jimmy talking to himself
Four occurrences of ‘Elohim’—
A key term with a dual usage
A strange monotheism, this
Jimmy as council chair, accusing
His committee of injustice
Taking over the whole show
By verse eight
Who is ‘Eil’?
Deuteronomy deals with this—
A god distributed to other nations
Canaan specifically
A rival of Jimmy?
A parallel structure?
Manumission perhaps?
Think of moral darkness
A tottering universe
Knowing as a call to action
As in the Genesis garden—
The tree, the fruit
Knowledge yielding nudity
Good and evil
The tree is two trees actually—
Knowledge and life
Then the curse
Which includes the snake
Work sweat dust pain—
All because they ate
From the wrong tree
Note Adam in the Psalm—
A link to Genesis
Humanity divinity
Existence itself
Psalm 82—
Performative language
With humans in the role
Of the Little Elohims
A stop on the road to monotheism
Recite the Psalms
Recite them
And it shall come to pass

Inspired by Peter Machinist Harvard University

* Back to top

The Holocaust, Uncle Shmuel, and I
I am a private person
Not an expert
I wrote a book, true
But it was an accident
Everything is an accident
This one began in rooms
With old Jews—
Relatives who pinch your cheek
Then burst into tears—
Oy, like Shmuel you look
They’d say
Uncle Shmuel disappeared
Dead and gone
Not a trace
My grandfather, with his stories
All lies, but such stories
Yet not a single story about his brother—
My Uncle Shmuel
As fate would have it
I grew up on Long Island
Near a mall named for Walt Whitman
Things were quiet
Until grandfather showed up
With his stories
Because Florida was too hot
Stories of Poland, Ukraine, Austria,
Depending on point of view
Stories of the old town— Bolohov
And its cast of characters
There was an album of photos
Glued, reglued, unglued,
Titled, untitled
And three photos of Shmuel—
One younger, one older,
One with wife and children
All with the same caption—
‘Killed by the Nazis’
Then my grandfather died
I went to Florida and heard stories
About his wives, his station wagon,
The canary named Shloime,
And his clothing—
The man was obsessed with clothing
Four outfits a day, laid out on the bed
And two wallets— always two wallets,
One ordinary, the other ostrich skin
So here is what happened
In the midst of the Florida rummaging
I come across the ostrich-skin wallet
I pick it up
And out fall some old letters—
Letters from Shmuel, from 1939
Begging for help
Get me out
Get me out of Poland
Here was the truth
The voice of Uncle Shmuel
And my grandfather’s terrible guilt
And here was the book
Staring me in the face
But who could stroll into Poland
Through the Iron Curtain
And sniff around for a dead Jew?
Then Gorbachev
The walls came down
The internet went up
And missing persons could be searched
In archives, on websites
Family trees could grow branches
The dead could come to life
A guy named Alex got in touch
He could find things—
Or so the email said
Then nothing
Two years passed
And the doorman buzzes me—
You got a big box down here
I go down
Such a box— weird stamps,
Twine and wire, kicked and bruised
And inside, a treasure—
A hundred twenty documents
Papers from centuries past
The family sealed in this box
The door had opened
And I would walk through
Into the old country
To the town where the woodsman
Would come down on Yom Kippur
To stay with the Jews
For good luck, he said
Where Aunt Sylvia earned a reputation
As ‘goddess of bitterness’What was so bitter—
I had to find out
So we flew to Lvov
Then drove to Bolohov
Speeding down the cow paths
In search of this man
‘Killed by the Nazis’
We spoke with many people
One, an old lady, outside the church,
Remembered Shmuel
Remembered him and his shop
Only the one lady—
Not enough for a New York Times piece
Another lady told of the shootings
The summer of 1943, when her mother
Had to run the sewing machine
To drown out the machine guns
But I needed more
Back to New York I go
And the phone rings
A Polish Jew calling about Shmuel
Calling from Australia
He heard from the grapevine
What grapevine might this be I thought
That I was looking for Bolohov Jews
He says come to Sydney
Five of us here—
We knew your Shmuel
We knew his family
As for me— I dated Shmuel’s sister
Here was the book—
Pieced together from visits to Australia,
Then Stockholm, then Minsk
Twelve Bolohov Jews
Scattered across the globe
Who told stories
Stories of Shmuel, his family,
And my Aunt Esther
Esther, who had nice legs
As one of them recalled—
Legs retrieved from oblivion

Daniel Mendelsohn Annual Holocaust Lecture Washington University November 12, 2008


Back to top

March 15, 2010  My Life in Hebrew

I was a baby
For eight terrible months
My parents never spoke Hebrew
They knew nothing
And so I became a Hebrew writer
I love Hebrew
Hebrew has wisdom, for example
The word for love— ohev
The word for enemy— oyev
So close, these two words
Just shift a single letter, and you
Move from love to hate
From hate back to love
But when we moved to Bnai B’rak
We were torn— k’riya— torn
Which is also what happened to me
On my wedding night
Torn, a tearing, a terrible tearing
And then the tearing of death
To be torn by death
I think of Stabat Mater,
The mother standing, watching
As her child is torn from her—
Akira, arika— an uprooting, a desertion
Just reverse the letters
A wise language, Hebrew
Back to Bnai B’rak—
I wanted to read books
To leaf through pages
With my mind, with my heart
I wanted to call out, to shout
To study these books
But such things could not be
Not in Bnai B’rak
With its shackled girls and women
I craved books, but they were forbidden
Dangerous, seductive
I will die without books I thought
The librarians
They took pity on me,
This rebellious girl
They gave me books
Books in paper bags
I married at eighteen,
To a yeshiva bocher
He sat and studied, studied and sat
I took the early bus
Three buses, actually,
And went to teach,
To teach with my head scarf
The kids were wild
All day they ran around
I went home, collapsed on the bed
Cried, got up, made dinner
For the yeshiva bocher husband
Who went off to study somewhere
I went off to my room
Where else was there to go?
I had terrible thoughts
Why are women not allowed to learn?
Why am I so miserable all the time?
I burned inside— a feminist burning
But I didn’t yet know the word
Then I got pregnant
And calmed down
Then the baby died and I was lost
One day I found a book
And opened my eyes
I cried out for this book
And it came to me
It spoke to me— in English
As it turns out
I gave birth nine times
Two died
Seven lived
Seven children
And I still wanted to study
The yeshiva bocher said no
No, he said
No, he said again
I rebelled
I started to write
I used a pen name
Nobody knew who this writer was
But the word got out
I was a writer—
A writer
I took my children and left
One of them— the boy—
Wanted to study with the rabbis
Fine, I said
The girls— they wanted a new life
I gave it to them
Seven children I took with me
Walked out
And got a divorce
I wrote fifty books
Ghost-written things at first
Biography, history
But now I write for myself
In my own name
At first I wanted to be Faulkner
I had to learn to be myself
I am still learning
I am still writing

Yehudit Rotem Washington University November 7, 2005

* Back to top

My Life in Architecture

I stood with my sister on a ship
A ship with plumbing, electrical outlets,
With our sweat-shop Holocaust-
Survivor parents, standing on the deck of
This ship, a far cry from steerage, sure
But there it was, as we entered the harbor
Of New York, this great city, like so many
Before us— The Statue
Years later I designed a museum—
My first one
Anyone can design a museum
But you’ve got to build the damn thing
I design a lot of museums these days
Berlin, Denver, South America
It’s all about memory
Memory and concrete
My father
His name was Nachman
My father used to haul paper
My brother worked downtown
But I went to Tunisia
To talk to boy scouts
In a basement in the capital
Where I saw a faded Xerox
Of all the U.S. presidents
What a country, America, I thought
But the world is under pressure
As the Bible says
Everything, everything is contested
Every day every square inch
Everyone is different—
Which is what I said last week
To handicapped people in Switzerland
But here I am in this gorgeous space
With this beautiful organ
It sits in silence, I know,
But such music I hear
And let me tell you this—
Democracy will triumph
Mark my words
I know things viscerally
I touch things and know them
In the pit at Ground Zero
I touched the slurry wall—
This thing that refused to fall—
In the pit I had a naked emotion
And I decided to build it tall,
To make it soar
Because people told me to
And I trust the people
‘Trust the invisible,’ my father said
I trust that too
My father was a whistler, a good one
He whistled at some Communists
In 1928 and they threw him in jail
Where he lived like a herring
Sleeping on top of people
1928 it was, and he tapped on the wall
Tapped in code
Kept on tapping
And someone tapped back
The someone got out, got big,
And helped my wall-tapping father
Become a factory manager
But I became an architect
After years of tapping
On the walls of my mind
I design walls, and other things
I win design competitions
Berlin, Denver, South America
I am a lucky man
God bless America

Daniel Libeskind Washington University December 6, 2004

Back to top


Table of Contents


Jewish Studies

Judaism & Science
Poetry & Short Stories


Arts & Culture


About Us

Subscribe to Updates from The New Jewish Thinker

Management Team
  • Founder:
    Daphne Drohobyczer 
  • Website Designer:
    Richard Gavatin
  • Max Brown
  • Daphne Drohobyczer 
    Richard Gavatin
    Jamie Glaser
    Ralph Graff
    Marvin Marcus 
  Team Members and Writers 
  • Carol Battle
    Max Brown
    Daphne Drohobyczer 
  • Larry Friedman
    Richard Gavatin
    Jamie Glaser
    Ralph Graff
    Berta Hyken

  • Margaret Israel
    Roz Kohen
    Ben Levin
    Lottye Lyle 
  • Marvin Marcus
  • Joyce Olshan
    Carol Rose
  • Paula Sparks 
  • Marla Zimmerman
Read our disclaimer

© Copyright 2022 The New Jewish Thinker - All Rights Reserved

Drag and Drop Website Builder