Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In This War Dream by Stephen Herz

This is a poem by Stephen Herz, author of Marked: Poems of the Holocaust.


Wars don't change except in name
The next one must go just the same
--Robert Graves

You squeeze the trigger and shout: I've got the wrong war,
the wrong war, the wrong war. Your words play through
your dream like a beat-up 78, stuck, with no one around
to push the needle. You look into the lieutenant's eyes
but he is your grandfather, young Lazarus of Oppenheim.
You see his long frock coat and the black-and-silver spiked
helmut of a German officer. You salute, take off his helmet
by its spike, tighten the strap, shoulder his Mauser rifle,
and set off for the trenches of Verdun and the Hindenburg
line. You squeeze the trigger and a frenchie is dead.

You squeeze the trigger and a yank is dead. You squeeze
the trigger and see your star in a field of white crosses.
You see your grandfather's black Iron Cross hanging
around your neck. You rise from your grave screaming:
This is the war to end all wars, the war to end all wars.
In your dream you must remember Pearl Harbor. You must
remember D day and VE day and VJ day and Churchill's
fingers forming a V for victory, rising high with pride.
In your dream you must remember the Alamo and Lexington
and Gettysburg and the Persian Gulf. In your dream

you must forget the Somme and Verdun and Nanking.
Forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Dresden. Forget My Lai
and Nam. Forget Somalia. Forget Korea and Chosin. Forget
frozen bodies stacked in the trucks, tied to the fenders
like deer. Forget the tears frozen to your cheek. In your dream
you must put on your old dog tags (one-O-two-six-
three-eight-six J), trade in your old M-2 for an M-16,
put your purple heart on your chest and go back to Iraq. Stuck.
In the wrong war, the wrong war, the wrong war.


Stephen is the author of Marked: Poems of the Holocaust.

Writing the Holocaust recently conducted an interview with him which you can read by clicking here.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Henry Avignon is an artist friend of mine, and recently when I read something he wrote about the kind of paintings he does.  His piece hit home.

Over the years I've had people ask me about why I write about my parents and their experiences in the war rather than write about something more pleasing, joyful, life affirming.  The question always puzzles me, and I've never felt that I've been able to come up with a good response.  I think that what Henry wrote in response to some questions about his painting "Sad Boy with Red Accessories" offers an answer.

Here's Henry's painting and what he said about it:

People often ask me why the crude faces, why so tribal, why so sick, why so devastated, why so fashionably disturbed.

When I think about these questions I always return to a question I asked myself years ago. Which artists in history began investigations psychically that I feel have not been fully developed?  

For me there just a few always in mind. First and foremost is Jean Dubuffet. He felt strongly for the art of the insane, of children under the age of 5, and of criminals who came from difficult childhoods. Perhaps because I had seen the inside of those Mental Health Hospitals one to many times early on in my artistic development, perhaps because I have daughter who was a brilliant painter until she gave it up at 5 years of age, and perhaps because most people close to me came from difficult upbringings...perhaps.

What all of these groups have in common is an uncensored intensity, a lack of concern for rules, and unbridled emotional spectrum that speaks to a rare kind of inaudible intelligence. They are all speaking from the gut.

I want to speak from the gut at all costs. I don't want circumspection to enter the creative process. That is what Yves Kline's "Leap into the Void" means to me...a literal, potentially destructive leap into the charge of emotions to wrench free whatever is there in that instant. It always hurts. The blow always reaches the flesh. There is no escaping the outcome. Regrets are futile. This is for me a process that parallels the condition of being a living body hurtling toward death. This is the middle finger up to fear. This is all I've got and I don't fucking care what I don't have.


To view more of Henry Avignon's work, please go to his website.   Click here.