Father wept in ’33, when smoke

from book burning wafted down

Polack Alley in Maspeth.

He knew the line from Heinrich Heine:

Where they burn books,

they will ultimately burn people.

My family huddled in fright

when 267 synagogues were burned

to the ground on Kristallnacht.

Stormtroopers in newsreels

rampaged through the nightmares

of my childhood.

I was frightened to see swastikas painted

on the front door of my synagogue

when I was dismissed from Hebrew School

one afternoon at the age of ten.

Little did I know that on that night in ’39,

twenty-thousand American Bundists

gathered at Madison Square Garden.

I walked home as fast as I could,

but I was confronted by teenage thugs

with snarly faces and missing teeth.

They dragged me into Mt Olivet cemetery,

tied me to a tombstone,

and spray-painted a swastika

on the back of my Loden coat.

As a Jew,

I would never feel safe again.

When my uncle was my age,

he survived a year at Dachau.

As an adult, he never went to sleep

without a full tank of gas in his car,

just in case he had to run.