The Crippler

In Kherson Russia we had The Crippler
Cataracts of despair in two rheumy caverns
Himself a crippled craftsman
Working by the always burning yahrzeit candle
His tortuous hands now palsied and pained

The trees of the forest surrounding us
Guarding his wounded hut
Silent sentries observing this patient line
(That same line always repeated
Mournful refrain through cry-filled centuries
Ani Maamin Eli Eli)

Mothers holding children in terror-filled grip
The Crippler the means to keep
Their sons at home
These children would not fight
In the Czar’s conscript army
Would not serve as Cantonist
A minimum of twenty years

“Bring the boy” he whispers
Vising shivering child
Blind hands encompassing
Face arms legs waist
“Two fingers on the right hand”
Bring the next boy
Caressing face arms legs’
The right foot to be
Bent forever out of shape
The Crippler works quickly

I watch ten boys
Enter the room whole
I hear ten boys and
Their screams are echoed still
My turn and The Crippler
Examines my face
Sifts my hair
I feel holes in my body
Fathered by his touch

“A girl” he whispers
“Why a girl
I have never…
Not a girl”
“Do it” my mother hisses
“Do it

A whore in the Czar’s army
To couple with goyim
Never will it be this one
The rabbi’s daughter”

He cuts my hair
Crosses an eye
Pours lead in my left leg
And my face slowly freezes
Into the ugliness of this agony

“My mother is dead
This is my father’s jealous wife”
I scream to be heard
But in the windowless room
I stand alone amid a
Minyan of maimed boys
And The Crippler continues
A Khazarian thrust and
The blood between my legs
Adds to the pool slowly
Wasting the wood of the floor

Years later we hear of The Healer
Some never reach her and for
Five years I search
Half the world
The old woman
Like the Witch of Endor
Necromances the soul
To spirit the body
My hair has grown back
We are still working on the leg
I still walk very slowly
My gaze is steady fixed
In fact at times
I can look right through you

But the heart is beyond
The work of The Healer
And the heart still cries
It may never stop
The Healer has advised
“But this heart” she added
“Pumps both blood and tears”

Reprinted from New York Quarterly #17