The Old Prague Jewish Cemetery

The names appear through leaves like the driftings of crocus.
Occasionally, a stone hoists its prayer note
higher than the winch of knots along a linden root,
and a bole props the space between two rocks like a lean-to.
From a distance all rise like barks unhinged in a barren forest,
none higher or lesser in the corms of May.
Don’t let the earth lie too heavy on the heart,
the Rabbi prays in whispers lifting every stone.
He no longer believes in the martyrdom of silence.
What words he fails to say, each son or daughter,
alchemized by death, plants as monuments to sod.
At night they sleep in the darkness of their slopes.
Each time a mother picks cotyledon near the path at Terezin,
she breathes the shem of life into the mud and clay.

“The Old Prague Jewish Cemetery” appeared in “The Hunger Wall” (Grove/Atlantic Press). James Ragan is a playwright and author of eight books of poetry, including “Too Long a Solitude.” He is the subject of the documentary “Flowers and Roots” (Arina Films) and for 25 years directed the Professional Writing Program at USC.