Kenneth Wolman: WOLMA, POLAND: 1655

Bogdan Chmielnicki was the leader of a Cossack revolt in the Ukraine and Poland between approximately 1648 and 1658. It is estimated that he was responsible for the deaths of between 100,000 and 300,000 Jews in Poland during that period.

For Melynda C. Reid


1.
PRELUDE: WEDDING DANCE

Beyle married Kalman in the fourth year of
Chmielnicki, went under the canopy,
defying danger and fate: stood with her
bridegroom, thought only of him, this pale, 
	graying man
with his
scholar's soft hands and sad gentle eyes.  The wedding jester howled with 

laughter, perched like a crow
on the synagogue roof, shrieked out
Bride-to-be, bride-to-be, think but a little of 
	what now awaits you!
and
they laughed at the jest, even Beyle herself, solemn in thinking of her
new
	estate.  
Their families danced round them, pulled them apart: men
with men, women with
	women, circling in the dark.

Beyle sought Kalman
with her dreams, her spirit in the air, apart from the dancers
	and decorum
of the Law:
and felt his spirit move toward hers in darkness, thinking
indeed of what awaited
	them:
for Beyle, at sixteen, and Kalman, at thirty,
saw in each other the meeting of souls
	beyond age,
and longed to cleave
together, fire and air, according to their spirits: and then
	soared above
themselves,
joined together in air and fire, one within the other, accepted
first in fear, then in
	joy:
looked down on the lights below, saw not
Chmielnicki but Heaven in the distant-
	nearing flames,
drifted in each
others' arms, and laughed to themselves, laughed to each other,
	recalling
the jester's
summons to think of what awaited: for they felt this night
that what waited was
	their gift to be borne.
	    
2. THE
CHILDREN

Beyle married Kalman in the fourth year of Chmielnicki, soon fled
with him from
	the village of Wolma
to Cracow: returned that winter, heard
the nightmares: but because there was
	nothing to do for them,
she could
not mourn: so Beyle went like a ghost into her husband's bed, dutifully,
as
she had been instructed: but at the moment of Kalman's fulfillment,
remembered 
	the nightmares:
how the Hetman's Cossacks sewed a terrified
cat in her pregnant sister's womb,
fed the baby she carried to an underfed
sow; captured her 10-year-old brother
	Avruml,
poured raw vodka into his
gullet, wrapped him like fish in a scroll of the Law, and 
	live-buried
him,
before their mother's disbelieving maddened eyes, in the synagogue
cemetery,
laughing drunkenly at the quick-fading shrieks of Mamala! from
beneath the lime:
and how their mother, reduced to a keening and babbling
madwoman who had
	forgotten her prayers,
was allowed at last to die: raped
first, repeatedly, on her son's fresh grave, then       beheaded;
and how a
Cossack hurtled her severed head at an innkeeper in payment for vodka   and
food.

She heard her brother's spectral sobbing in the draining cry of the
man thrusting 
	inside her,
and that night twice conceived: their firstborn
child, and her knowledge that
	hearing the cry of the dead had doomed
it.
She bore that summer, crying out Mamala! in her pain, as she forced it
downward, 
	outward, cruelly,
feeling nothing for its unbegun unwanted
life, ended as the midwife severed the 
	cord.
Kalman mourned, took solace
from his books, sought and found answers that only      smothered
questions,
bound the mouth that would protest: and was taught to dull
questioning God with    his wife's body:
so came to Beyle again, to sow
within her, this time in joyless silence, focused,
as the rabbis taught
him, not on pleasure but the task of binding his wife to 
	fertility.
So
again she conceived, and bore again, and the child lived: but it was the
color of 
	moonrise
beneath the dark swatch of its hair: a ghostly spectre
to take Avruml's name,  Avruml himself
risen from the graveyard lime-pit,
with no more life than he.  Beyle resigned      herself:
and sensed this child
would also die, victim of its name, a curse given in devotion.


But it did not, and Beyle mocked herself for a false prophetess: for she
saw Death's 
	Angel,
knew herself his priestess, dedicated to his will,
even to renouncing her children:
but not Avruml but Kalman followed in the
winter that came: not  murdered, save
	by God's pity
and the
blood-spattering cough that lived in his lungs, that made him weep from

pain and shiver
through the hottest summer nights, and that finally came to
take him.  Still Beyle 
	could not mourn:
for the sickly child, the
changling-Avruml, clung to her breast, demanded all her 
	strength,
fought
against her darkness, drank, sucked at her breast with the lover's passion

	its father could not show,
lived beyond its foretold days, an ancient
soul and wonder to his mother, and would 
	not grow.
	    
3. THE
INVADERS
	    
The Swede has left his wife six months behind, her
face by now a dim memory of 
	resentment,
his children, two alive, four
dead, all given to fill a parish register or country 
	churchyard,
his
wife's womb swelling again with the promise of a new chance that neither 

wishes nor believes,
living on a hillside farm that mocks his wife's
fecundity in its barrenness: a farm of 
	stones.
One morning, he looks
without passion or anger at the wolf-mangled body of a
	sheep,
surveys his
rain-withered crop that will be neither tithe nor bread to feed his

family:
shivers and feels himself freeze dead inside, remembering the story
in church of 
	how Hagar,
cast into the desert by the Jewess Sarah, parted
from Ishmael so not to see him die:
does not bid farewell, but disappears
from the farm, spends the day drinking in an 
	inn filled with men
whose
every breath united is curses and despair; and flees to King Charles' army

	and the distant Polish wars.

Lost after battle, wandering to the
village, he contemplates the woman in the yard,
sitting in the sunlight, a
baby clamped to a breast, the nipple dark-swollen, visible,
a feminine
vision to inspire not lust but memory: of his wife on the hillside
farm,
perhaps alive, perhaps not (it is all one), the child in her womb now
born, perhaps 
	alive,
perhaps not (it is all one), her body beneath his in
the night, a shredded memory of 
	love
turned too soon to exhaustion: she,
an old woman at 25, without the strength even 
	to dream.
He feels suddenly
seized without reason, without experience, newborn himself,
	bereft of
memory:
and the Jewess before him a strange, darkling creature with
wolf-eyes, clutching
	her child to her teat like a beast.

She looks at
him, the Jewess, quickly covers her breast, extends the child before her 

like a shield,
shaking her head in odorous terror, a febrile quivering
fright before a stranger:
and he walks slowly toward her, his boots sucking
against the springtime mud like 
	a polluted kiss.
What is she crying out
at him, shaking her head?  He feels himself laugh 
	soundlessly: what would
she cry but
Don't! as he takes the child, carefully, out of her arms, sets
it on the ground, turns 
	and sees her gaping:
for he has kissed the child
gently, then turned its back to what will take place, 
	quickly, behind the
ruined house.
	    
She knows the sure signs that she is with child
again: and will bear in the winter. 
	What are prayers? she cries:
staggers
wildly through the village, Avruml in her arms, invades the study house, 

and pleads
for death at the hands of Kalman's friends as she begged the
stranger when he was 
	done with her: extends her neck,
points at the sword
in the belt he had not bothered to remove.  But her comforters 
	hold
her,
teach her the Law: how a Jewish mother bears a Jewish child, that the
child will be 
	welcomed:
a new child, a new life, in a land that has lost
its children: and the words of her 
	comforters
thrust into her darkness,
drive her shame from her heart, forgive her, save her from 
	her mother's
madness.
God has abandoned us, He is so distant! cries the midwife that
December as she 
	draws forth
the red, squalling blonde-haired Viking baby
boy whose cry is like the ram's horn 
	blown at the New Year.
But Beyle
laughs, weeping, holding the child: No, God is close, in my belly, like the

	cat inside my sister!
	    
4. CRADLE SONG
	    
Sleep my
little one, show me your future,
Sleep and dream, show me your past.
Show
me my sister, my mother, my brother,
Show me your father, show me what
lasts.
	    
Sleep my little one, don't wake too soon,
Sleep and
dream, don't wish for dawn.
For dawn takes away all your wonderful
dreaming,
And daylight shows nightmares, a life to be borne.

Wake my
little one, for you are crying,
Wake my poor little one, Mamala's
here.
Wake, my little one, for you have saved me,
The past is a fouled
curse, the future is here.
	    
Rise with me, little one, come
dance in my arms,
Rise and dance, come up to the air.
Look down at the
lights, reach out, touch the stars,
For they are as bright as the gold in
your hair.
	    
Kenneth Wolman, September 1991