Barbara Goldberg


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, raised in Forest Hills, New York, graduated Phi Beta Kappa in philosophy from Mount Holyoke College. She received an MEd from Columbia University and an MFA from American University, Washington, DC. She is the author of 6 prizewinning poetry books, including the Valentin Krustev Award in translation for Transformation: The Poetry of Translation and the Felix Pollak Poetry Prize through the University of Wisconsin Press, for The Royal Baker's Daughter. Goldberg’s most recent book of translations is Scorched by the Sun: Poems by Moshe Dor, supported by the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. Goldberg's include two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her own work appears in the Harvard Review, Poetry, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Goldberg has taught poetry, translation and speechwriting and presented readings/panels at the American Literary Translators Assocaion (ALTA), Associated Writing Programs (AWP) the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Folger Shakespeare Library and The Jimmy Carter Center for Inernational Peace. A former senior speechwriter for a large nonprofit organization and executive editor of Poet Lore magazine, she is currently Series Editor of the Word Works' International Editions. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.