The Take

The Take: Liz Marlow

Ever wonder how journal editors make decisions about work to feature? The Take gives you a glimpse behind the scenes at Mud Season Review. Here, we feature one single poem or flash fiction piece that caught the attention of the editorial team, apart from the signature poetry portfolio or fiction piece in our bi-monthly issues. We hear from the author about the inspiration for his or her work, and we hear from a co-editor about why the poem or flash fiction story stood out.

Liz Marlow

Chaja Kubrzanska’s Bath

Jedwabne, Poland Pogrom, June 25, 1941*

Those first few days after delivery,
my body, hollow bleeding,
hungered for a return of what
once was but also stood ready
to surrender what would become.
Ready for summer, what hibernates
is now out in the open, the way
my baby ascends from under
my shirt after nursing. A turtle
sunbathes on a half-submerged
fallen log in this pond. A few
Aquatic Warblers click and sing
in the tall grass nearby until
an approaching accordion drowns
the song, scaring them away.
If I pray enough, maybe
they’ll return to bathe with us.
If I pray enough, maybe
instruments will stop smothering
bellows, eventually ceasing,
because men’s arms tire
of swinging. These men
wear others’ blood on their faces,
the way redcurrant berries dot
the ground, and they come here
seeking more. That’s reality;
the red never ends. It reappears
year after year. And men,
they crave others’ blood,
because butchers steal
the slaughter. They never
feel it flow
from their own bodies monthly.
If I pray enough, maybe G-d
will let them bleed with us.
If I pray enough,
maybe they will drown in this
makeshift mikveh after
my baby and I face the water.

*Days after Germans took control of Jedwabne, Poland, on June 25, 1941, Polish men started a pogrom in the town. A local priest convinced the mob to stop by telling them that Germans would take care of the situation. On July 10, 1941, with Nazi encouragement, Polish Gentiles murdered many of their Jewish neighbors with axes, clubs, and then burned the town’s remaining Jews alive in a barn.

Author’s Statement
There is so much I can say about this poem, but I will leave it up to readers to piece together why this subject is important to discuss right now. As you might know, Jedwabne came up in the news quite a bit last year due to politicians going back and forth as to whether or not they would exhume the bodies of those killed during the pogrom. It was because of those news articles that I began reading (and writing) about Jedwabne, especially since anti-Semitism is currently a huge problem not just in Poland and the U.S., but in many other parts of the world.

I was taken aback by Szmul Wasersztein’s survivor testimony of non-Jewish neighbors brutally murdering almost all Jews that had lived in the small town for at least ten years (when the last census was taken). As a Jew with my own small children, I felt great empathy for the horrific choice that Chaja Kubrzanska made that fateful day in 1941 when she witnessed other Jews dying horrifically. Read more about his testimony.

From the Poetry Editors
Haunting and visceral, this poem turns an unflincing eye on the body, its motions and its details and its external threats. Marlow opens the poem tightly focused on the postpartum body, widening the lens over the course of this short, stunning poem to encompass everything, all of the small, persistent violences of the world, and all of its enormous, systemic horrors, as well. Blood is the unifying image, smeared all over everything in this poem’s crystalline, confronting landscape: the blood of the womb, the blood of genocide, the bloody color of red currants. It’s an inescapable color, “[dotting] the ground,” worn and craved by monstrous men, flowing “from their own bodies monthly.”

By Grier Martin

Grier Martin has worked with Mud Season Review since 2017, as a poetry reader, associate poetry editor, poetry co-editor, and co-editor-in-chief. She is an active participant in the Burlington Writers Workshop and founded its Poetry Discussion Group, which she led for over a year. She is a resident of Burlington, VT and a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.