Holocaust Survivors Play Poker

Every week they assemble,
     Hanka, Gusta, Mayer, Hala,
and Sam, to test their luck again.

Seared blue-vein numbers,
in ragged formation
line up across their arms.

Five cards for everyone,
select the ones to keep: pairs,
any three or four of the same.

They place their bets
on what they hold,
or hope to hold.

No one speaks, the air is
shaved by numbered cards
their lots are drawn.

They always stop for tea,
peeled apples, sliced, and oranges,
on an altar of white lace.

Rows of European
tortes and rugellah, herring,
shmaltz on gold-rimmed plates.

The men strain
tea through cubes of sugar
gripped by their teeth.

The smoke of cousin Sam’s
cigar hangs above mounds of food,
like a burned offering.

And someone says,
as someone always does,
“Ah, let’s enjoy now.”

Rachel Goldstein, born in Germany after WWII, is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. A resident of Newton, Massachusetts, Goldstein works for Facing History and Ourselves, a national educational organization that trains teachers to help students understand the complexities of anti-Semitism and racism.