INTRODUCTION TO THE LAWYER'S
"Well," said the host, "this is a
You say you will and then you won't! But there
others in the company who will
Regale us until we've had our
"It's just past ten now, the gambling's over at one.
quarter of our time has thus far run,
Pleasantly, I hope. For precious
Each moment, and we find our joy in this:
That though we cannot
have again what's done,
There's always more to have till we are
"So, lawyer, come now! You must have a tale
So full of
lusty truth our own lives pale
Beside the secrets told in
That you might now disguise in fiction, whence
all come -- from life, but subtly bent,
Sufficient to protect the
"I'm afraid," the lawyer said, "that I
Have little in
my head to satisfy
The need to hear a tale yet unheard,
And what I
have strikes me as absurd.
"Yes, much in my long life that I have
Might easily into a tale be spun,
But Chaucer, in his massive
Already done it all with more pizzaz
Than I could
ever generate. And so,
Like the chef, I'll to his great work go,
this time to a tale he finished, taking
All the essential ingredients
of its making,
And bringing it up to date, as you will see
a tale from Chaucer and from me."
O may we be spared from
Hunger, torture, rape, of loved ones shorn,
descendants of this company
From being of the starving billions
All their lives to suffer and to mourn,
Or through some twist
of fate or will of war
From being cast among the wretched
But if misfortune come to us, then let
Us bear it
patiently and with good grace,
For what we are is more than what we
And fortune is far more than time and place,
Ready to return a
As you will hear in this, my tale of woe
courage, that makes one of high and low.
THE LAWYER'S TALE
Anna Weiss was born to wealth and
A daughter doted on in early years
By parents whose greatest
pleasure was to please,
And with love to inundate her fears,
with kisses still her infant tears.
Till she was four, she knew nor
want nor pain,
Nurtured in a world both safe and sane.
father she was very close.
Often he would take her on his knee
read to her, or talk of what was most
On her childish mind, but
As though there were no better company.
She was indulged,
not spoiled, as she grew
To imitate the generous love she
She was affectionate and trusting, shy
At first, but then
a little chatterbox,
Quick to laugh, not easy to make cry,
as yet of painful shocks
That later fit the soul with doors and
Universally she was adored,
An angel whose sweet face one's
All that wealth could do for her, it did:
had a spacious room chock-full of toys,
And what she wanted, want did
But most of all, she learned the deeper joys
lie beneath the foreground noise --
All that taste and culture could
And grace around her could shape into will.
wanted her to learn what men
At that time exclusively were
And to be equal to her husband when
She married, in both
character and thought,
And bring to life more than her mother
Not stunted in what she could say or do
By being limited in
what she knew.
So was she destined for a happy life
plenty, privilege, and praise,
To marry well and be a loving
And mother, who in turn would ably raise
Children bright and
gentle in their ways.
But fate had something else for her in
As you will see, if you listen more.
When she was four,
the Germans came to town.
Soon Anna had a Jewish star to wear
her clothes. Now rarely she went down
With her parents to play. The
Would curse and spit at Jews, or cut their hair.
so they stayed at home and waited for
The end of what seemed just
One day her parents told her she would go
Luba, a former nanny, for awhile
Into the country, how long they didn't
Until the Germans, as was oft their style,
Finally left. And
then (this with a smile),
She and Luba would return, and they
be just as before she went away.
Anna naturally could see
The veil of normalcy to what the heart
Was saying, quite the
opposite of mind,
And understood, for all her parents' art,
they would for a long time be apart,
Perhaps forever. She wept and held
And nothing that they said could make it right,
Luba had forcibly to pry
Her from her parents, and drag her out the
While they, weeping, did not even try
To stop her, so that Anna
That Luba was a witch, the kind that tore
their parents so that she
Might eat them up, once fattened
They took a train out to the countryside,
And then a
horse-drawn cart, and then on foot
Through snowy fields to a barn with
Some goats and horses, too. Then Luba put
things they brought with them and shut
The door, and said that Anna
must stay here
Until there were no Germans left to fear.
would bring her food each day, she said,
But warned her never, never to
Because the Germans wanted all Jews dead
And searched for
Jews to murder far and wide.
So should some stranger enter, she should
Beneath the hay and not come out at all
Until she heard Luba to
Then Luba left the child there alone
With nothing but
the cows to keep her warm.
Whether she returned cannot be known,
little Anna, weeping, left the barn,
Thinking that the witch might do
Fattening her up to eat her, as occurred
In a tale that
she had lately heard.
How else explain the power of the
Over her parents? She must have cast a spell!
Or maybe Luba
engineered a switch
With demons that in deep, dark forests dwell
her loving parents! Who could tell?
Her parents never would have sent
So much, then, was absolutely clear.
walked across a field
And found a path that led into a wood.
past four, the light began to yield,
And there before her evil demons
Five of them, all dressed as demons should
In shrouds that
blended with the ambient snow,
And blocked the path on which she now
One came near and knelt in front of her.
you?" he asked, "my dear, sweet child?"
She was not used to Polish,
though there were
Many words she understood. He smiled
And said, "A
little Jewish girl!" Then piled
Some snow into his hand, a little
Covered her face and threw her to the ground.
did to her, I need not tell.
Enough to say she bled from front and
Left lying naked in the snow that fell
Like heavy, frozen
tears down from the black,
Half-burying her on the drifted
As she, freezing, could not move, but lay
Dying on the
And then she saw an angel coming near,
dropped a sack of wood and knelt beside
Her praying silently, yet she
Music like an overwhelming tide
Drown her in love, when
else she would have died,
A love just like the pain she could not
Flowing from the angel with blond hair.
Twenty-eight years now pass, and
Is Anna Michnowicz, a Catholic Pole,
Married to her
angel, who is twice
Her age, unquestioned icon of her soul,
husband, lover, joy -- the whole
Passion of her life, but for
Whose love alone for her would have sufficed.
in the woods became a gift
Through which she found divine and earthly
A trauma that eventually would shift
Her childish vision to
The permanence of pain and need to move
grace to choreography
Beyond what she could comprehend or
It was enough to witness pain, of course,
And feel the
fullness of our suffering,
For God alone had wisdom, wit, and
To render good and true salvation bring.
The love one felt was
what made one's soul sing,
One billionth part of what one had
From Christ, if one's heart could be believed.
one ought to imitate His life,
Who came to Earth to illustrate the
Teaching by example man and wife,
Who otherwise might not love
as they should,
Not knowing love within as now they could.
the gift that Christ gave on the cross,
Turning into gold life's bitter
So Anna loved her husband long and well,
A farm wife with
two sons. At times she thought
Of her strange past, though it was hard
Fantasy from memory. She caught
Glimpses of a time that
Such pain to think about she let it go,
whether it was real or no.
Her husband Jacek was a fiery man
fought against injustice and oppression,
First against the lords of his
Then against the foreigner's aggression,
The Nazis and the
Reds in swift succession.
Often he was beaten and in jail,
he was becoming old and frail.
One day some friends came to the
house and said
That he would be the special target of
A campaign to
remove all those who led
Some protests that had too successful
And so the government to slander moved.
They would say he
was a Zionist spy,
And his wife a Jew, which was a lie.
blushed and said that it was true.
He found his wife when she was just
Raped and dying in the woods. A Jew,
Yes, she was by birth
(and here he smiled),
But now with Christ completely
Spending so much time upon her knees
That he would often
miss his midnight squeeze.
This is no joke, they said. They will
You of Zionism, and your wife.
You must go into exile, now,
For good your freedom and, perhaps, your life.
is with these rumors rife:
That to crack down on protests, they will
The age-old Polish hatred of the Jews.
Jacek didn't want to
go, but when
They warned that Anna might be tortured, too,
in reluctantly, and then
Did everything they said that he should
Afraid of what his wife might be put through
After all she
suffered long ago
When he found her dying in the snow.
went, they and their two boys,
Adam and Pavel, guided on their
From house to house by those who found their joys
their dark midnight into day,
Living as they would while others
In darkness, slaves to history and will,
accomplices of ill.
They crossed the borders of those states
On foot, through woods or over mountain passes,
streams in small boats, or on paved
Roads traveling in holes carved
Barely breathing as a guard harasses
The driver at a
checkpoint drowned in light,
Harsh and ugly adjunct to the
And then at last a crossing so remote
To a place so
backward none can tell
What century it is, where a boat
take them out of that cold hell
Across the sea to where one might
And speak the truth, and say what one believes,
And not be
ruled by murderers and thieves.
But here the brave, like-minded
And smugglers for pay must take their place,
dependable than were their friends
Among the many dangers that they
The smuggler leads them at too fast a pace
And soon is gone,
too far ahead to see,
Abandoning the winded family.
upon a ridgeline Anna saw
The same five evil demons she had seen
long ago, when she was only four,
Coming towards them like some awful
That could not be, but is. Anna's scream
Echoed like a
banshee's off the hills,
The kind the heart with dread and anguish
But why detail what those demons did?
First, they stifled
Anna's screams and tied
Her hand and foot, then took all that was
In clothes that her sweet angels wore; then tried
To find out
more with torture till they died --
Anna's angels buried in a
While Christ looked on and wept, as well He should.
raping her till they were done,
They sold Anna to a brothel in some
Deep in the mountains, far from anyone
Who spoke her language
or might help her. Down
In a dark cellar she was tightly bound
the owner finished eating dinner,
Then came down to teach the raw
She found her deep in prayer on her knees,
had come to see her there, and held
Her in His arms. She had begged Him
To take her to her angels, but life knelled
her as bright tears welled
Into His eyes. "Not yet, not yet," He
"You've much to do before you join the dead."
wept for comfort in His chest,
As child to parent, burrowing
Towards something that made sense of all the rest,
A love for
all that was, that never died,
In which all things might innocent
The owner then unbound her, let her be,
For never did she
such sweet radiance see.
And so it was the next few months as
Became a prostitute in that small place,
Accepting what her
fate had thrust upon her
Without complaint and with uncanny
That made the men ashamed to see her face,
And gave to those
who shared her slavery
New hope in what they sensed but could not
But, knowing that Christ wasn't welcome here,
the teachings of Islam
As she taught the others not to fear,
find strength in God, the "am that am,"
While they taught her the ways
of the Koran
And their language, which was of the same
Kind as hers,
and so words quickly came.
As Anna practiced well the Muslim
She came to love it also, and to pray
To Allah purely, as the
Without Christ's human image in the way.
Yet for her
faith she dearly had to pay,
Especially since she influenced the
To treat even their customers as brothers.
Yet there was
something beautiful within
That made even the brutes that owned her
Evil as they were, and steeped in sin,
But human still, and
touched by higher laws,
Though rarely acting without selfish cause.
so they sold her to a pious man
Who freed her and then asked her for
Thirty years now pass, and Anna
Is Anna Spahiu, wife of Muhamedin.
Although a Muslim, she's
still in love with Christ,
Adding new loves to what loves have
Seeing through eyes shaped by what she's seen.
She is poor --
the years show on her face --
Yet she is grateful for this time and
Most of all she loves the times of prayer,
Allah, pure and full of peace,
A breath upon the void, no more than
Free of all that must begin and cease,
A bit of longing,
longing for release.
At such times all her suffering and joy
one love no demon can destroy.
Her husband was a widower with
Young girls, for whom he needed soon a mother.
Hearing of this
saint, he went to see
Her for himself, and then would have no
The first few years he was to her a brother,
But then she
came to love him as a wife,
And shared with him his sweet but meager
They now were getting old, the daughters gone
husbands' villages nearby,
Married and with children. Left
Anna and her husband oft would lie
Hand in hand and share a
The house full of memories, calm and still,
love, untenanted by will.
But one night demons knocked upon their
Then knocked it down and came inside, the same
that had come for her before,
Laughing as they called them both by
Anna and Muhamedin, then came
Into the bedroom, neighbors that
Yet now doing just what demons do.
pigs!" they said, then dragged
Them out the door and set the house on
"Your wife will love this!" the cruel demons bragged
tied her husband up with wire,
Then raped her till they had all their
"Just wanted you to see!" they laughing said,
Then shot her
weeping husband in the head.
And then they left, those demons, as
Bleeding on the ground from front and back,
As she had so
long ago that day
She met her angel on the forest track
As snow like
frozen tears fell from the black,
And she lay nearly dying and in
But this time her angel lay beside her, slain.
And so she
prayed to God that she might die
And not be rescued this time. Her
Was simply to beside her husband lie
And never move again,
but to expire
As though to sleep. No hope did she require,
faith, nor love, but all was bleak despair,
For life itself was more
than she could bear.
O those who stoke the evil in each
For power, vengeance, greed, or hope of gain,
Know that as you
play your ugly part,
There is a part of you that writhes in pain
drives you on to massacre again.
You shape your inner world, and outer,
By everything you think or say or do.
And so for good the
opposite is true,
For love allows the loving soul to flower,
being's sweet effulgence to renew
With more resilience and with greater
As it did in Anna's darkest hour,
Moving her to move and then
Though no one heard her sharp and painful cries.
found a shovel near the burned-out barn
And buried her dear husband
where he fell,
Untying first his feet and then his arms
might rest in Heaven safe and well,
Away from this advertisement for
And then she left her smoldering abode
To join her fellow
Muslims on the road.
For days they walked with little food or
Thousands, tens of thousands, on the run
Towards a distant
and indifferent border
Where they were left in limbo, and undone
hunger, thirst, and sickness one by one,
In their thousands slowly
A nation dispossessed and in despair.
the camp for her stepdaughters,
Hearing things that filled her heart
Many seeking kin as she sought hers
Only to find
for certain they were dead,
Killed by Christians or dying as they
Two sons-in-law were dead -- that much she heard.
But of the
others there was not a word.
Sick with grief and hunger, still in
Anna fainted, and there she would have died
But for some
angels finding her again
And with a stretcher taking her inside
tent, where volunteers from Israel tried
To save those that they could,
though Muslims all,
And they were Jews who came at mercy's call.
Anna woke, she heard a doctor say,
In a language that she knew she
"She will be fine." He knelt down where she lay
To feel her
pulse, then, satisfied, withdrew.
"Wait!" she said. "Please wait! I am
The translator translated, the doctor turned
beloved memories through her burned.
"My name is Anna Weiss," she
Somewhere in Poland soon before the war.
But then I was
from my poor parents torn
And became a Christian. After
Troubles, then a Muslim. Please, before
You go away, I wish
that you would see
Whether anyone still looks for me."
doctor nodded, then withdrew again.
Anna waited white with hope
The tent, while he contacted Yad Vashem
In Israel, to say
that he had tried,
Certain she, to stay alive, had lied.
enough, Anna Weiss was there,
A little girl lost near Lublin
The doctor then returned to her and said,
an Anna Weiss among those named
As missing, though none knows alive or
And looking for some proof she had not feigned,
He said a
prayer that she might have retained:
"Baruch atta --" "No! No!
It is attoi!"
And so they hugged and kissed and wept with joy.
Six months later, Anna Weiss was
A plane from Tel Aviv to JFK,
Looking for her father, who was
From the last place he'd been known to stay
After moving to the
For fifty years he'd faithfully sent in
His address and his
phone to Yad Vashem.
He had never given up on her.
her name soon after he
Had come to Israel. The others were
each member of his family
Gassed or shot. He could not know that
Had been saved by her angel, and then grew
Up barely knowing
that she was a Jew.
She followed him upon the ledger there,
Tel Aviv to Dan to Jerusalem,
And then Seattle, Cleveland, and Bel
But always, always, telling Yad Vashem
Address and phone, that
they might tell him when
She had been found, or, perhaps, they'd
From someone somewhere sometime just one word.
address and phone, in Riverdale,
The Bronx, was sent in just four years
She called and wrote to him, to no avail,
And now was flying in
that she might know
If he was still alive, and then, if so,
want to come to live with her at last,
To heal the wound inflicted so
She traced him to a nursing home nearby
Where he had
lived, and went to see him there,
Directed to a ward, she knew not
To which she had to be buzzed in, and where
There seemed to be
but little nursing care.
Residents roamed up and down the
Aimlessly, or leaned against the walls.
She found a desk,
deserted, then a nurse
In a white coat, and asked her for her
She led her to a room where someone cursed
got up, began to totter
Towards them, then decided not to
Collapsing back to bed. "That's him," she said,
back out, no longer interested.
"Papa!" Anna cried, though knowing
No longer was, yet was. She was too late,
And yet on time to live
That was the last expression of their fate,
So long had
both of them had had to wait
To be rejoined, and now he could not
The daughter he had lost so long ago.
Two years she stayed
to care for him, while she
Worked as a companion and a maid,
Alone and poor and ever more afraid
Of being caught,
the longer that she stayed.
She wrote to her stepchildren, now back
And talked to them from time to time by phone,
not go to see them, lest when she
Returned, she would not be allowed
Every day she could she went to see
Her father, though
And fed him that he might not get too
Until he died, and she was free once more
To start again, as
she had done before.
She went back to Israel to live
In Bat Yam,
a suburb by the sea,
Living off a pension that they give
Holocaust survivors, and what she
Was sent by her remaining
For her share of the farm, which they had sold
To someone who
had paid for it in gold.
They reburied their father
Inviting her to come, which now she could,
And did, though
as a Jew, which all could see,
And prayed and wept for her dear
Man that he was, and later stood
Deep in the
mountains, where her angel lay,
And her two sons, and on her knees did
"Dear Christ," she prayed, "and Allah, and Jehovah,
trinity now of a different kind,
Three-in-one, my Gods, may you look
All my loved ones gone, and help me find
Them once I leave this
gift of life behind."
She hungered then for death, when she might
Reunited with her family.
Her stepdaughters were anxious she
With them, to spend in comfort her last days,
returned to Israel again,
Which was to her, her home, in many
The first she felt her own, where no bright glaze
her dark truth, as it had done
Till she to Israel's tent had finally
She studied Hebrew and the Talmud, too,
Kept a kosher
home, observed Shabbat
And all the holidays as they came
Turning her home into a Migdash Me'at,
A little space of
holiness, where not
One demon would not bow the head and pray,
pure and clean and simple was her way.
Yet well she knew the demons
were still there,
Waiting to be summoned by the heart
call out and draw them from the air
To play their ghastly, cruel,
And commandeer the souls that now would start
massacre and torture, burn and rape
Those whom for their difference
they would hate.
The demons, yes, were rampant among Jews
Arabs both, just itching to begin
The reign of hate, that would collect
Long owed by both sides for their years of sin,
retribution savored long within.
Yet angels, too, were hovering
Singing songs that filled the radiant sky.
Just as the
sun casts its light on Earth
Not meaning to, so Anna gave to
Small circle of good neighbors something worth
Far more than
those whose words the many stir,
A peace that helped to calm what
Dancing in their hearts; also a grace
That helped to
make a sanctum of that place.
So there's my tale, the best that I
Leaving Anna innocent but wise,
Tiresias of faith
instead of gender,
Having worshiped God through many eyes,
what would else have been disguise,
And joining in her prayer all those
And whose sweet will to peace might others move.
EPILOGUE TO THE LAWYER'S
"By God, that was a most affecting
The bartender exclaimed, lifting his ale.
"And long enough
for two or three, I'd say.
But now enough of God, I humbly pray,
preaching in the guise of narrative.
I want to see some characters who
As I do. Minister, is that OK?
The lawyer's stole your thunder!
If I may,
Could we have a tale without religion?
But I say too much
-- it's your decision."
"That it is," the minister
"Perhaps I shouldn't go, if you have need --"
"I'll take his
turn!" the engineer broke in.
"I have a tale steeped in venal
Some bitter beer, the taste of everyday,
Where morals are a
"Let the minister assume my place
perhaps when we can face
Another tale to profit from. Right now
favor one distinctly lower brow."
All agreed that's what they'd
And so this next went to the