Barbara Goldberg

Wiedergutmachung

Fading, but still holding court
from bed, my mother last month received
a letter. For $18 a fund-finding agency
would trace ‘displaced’ sums. She was sure
despite the late date, Wiedergutmachung geld
was coming her way, would ‘make good again’
her bitter bruises, mother gassed, father
in ashes, the violations of old age. So far

we hadn’t seen a dime, though others
got more for losing less. Helga
for instance, $800 tax free per month
for life. But Wiedergutmachung never
was meant to pay for blood, only for what
a concrete number could be attached to—factory,
practice, butcher shop. On the tongue
the syllables sat dense, inert, like the potato

knodel we ate on Sundays. The house held other
pungencies: smoked liverwurst, headcheese made
of boiled hog parts floating in the vinegary
instability of aspic. Sometimes in spring
the knodel contained a sour cherry. Finally
$100 arrived from a defunct account. Since then
my mother dances, but only in dream. Like
the little mermaid, she is clumsy now on land, all

the senses dwindling. The milky scrim that dims
her sight, the front tooth that insists
on falling out. “Now I can’t smile,” she says
and hides her mouth, shy as a virgin. No loving
lips to kiss away the pain, no gold coins
tucked beneath her pillow. No sun-drenched
sailor to slip between the sheets where
she is waiting, in a nightgown, to be taken.

 

Reprinted from The Royal Baker’s Daughter, University of Wisconsin Press, with permission of the author.

 

 

Barbara Goldberg is the author of six prize-winning books of poetry, including The Royal Baker's Daughter, winner of the Felix Pollak Poetry Prize (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008). Her most recent book is Transformation: The Poetry of Translation (Poets Choice, 2019), recipient of the Valentin Krustev Translation Award. She and renowned Israeli poet Moshe Dor edited numerous anthologies of contemporary Israeli poetry including After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace (Syracuse University Press/Dryad Press, 2007). Goldberg received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as an award from Columbia University's Translation Center. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Paris Review,Poetry, American Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review. She is Series Editor for the International Editions at The Word Works. To read more by this author, see Winter 2007 issue and the DC Places Issue.