Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Readers Choice Award Contest Poem: “Deceptive Cadence” by Carol Kner

Editor’s Note:  Nominees for the Songs of Eretz Readers Choice Award have been or will be published/reprinted in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review every weekday from February 19 to February 27.  Vote for your favorite in March by sending an email to  The winner will be announced in April and receive a one hundred dollar honorarium.

Deceptive Cadence
Carol Kner

I have to face the sources and the flickering presence of my own ambivalence as a Jew; the daily, mundane anti-Semitisms of my entire life. 
--From Split at the Root by Adrienne Rich
"Dance" Watercolor & Graphite on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon

At the Center for Jewish History
because of terrorists
we wait in a patient line

to pass the security check,
old people, families with children, couples
out for a concert on Saturday night.

We all pass muster and stroll into the theater,
a long narrow room shaped, I think,
like a shoebox.

A Jew box, I say out loud,
headlong words born of rhyme
without gestation as thought.

You nod indulgently
(our family is knit with Jewish yarn),
but your mouth rounds in a small o.

And the jingle turns on me and jeers.
Gas chambers and coffins imitate 
its narrow rectangular dimensions.

The tension of its long closed oo moans
through the music we have come to hear,
melodies deported with Transylvanian musicians

who never came back, resurrected by gypsies.
Their harmonic minor wanders indiscriminately
through dance and prayer,

a Diaspora of augmented seconds
intoning liturgy, celebrating weddings, keening for the dead,
lamentations as comforting as skin.

The concert ends and we rise
to applaud the music makers,
the cimbalom, the zongura, the drums, the strings,

the songs whose deportation failed.
Like football fans whose team has won,
we file out exuberantly

into a wet night,
the rain singing its own small song,
beating its careless time.

Poet's Notes:  My husband was born in Budapest and, though he came to the U.S. as a five-year-old in 1940, he enthusiastically maintained his relationship with Hungarian culture throughout his life. Thus, when Marta Sebestyén and her group Muszikás were in New York presenting a concert at the Center for Jewish History, he bought tickets for the whole family.

In 2002 we entered the auditorium through a security checkpoint that in 2017 has become routine but at the time was a relatively new requirement. No such safeguards could have prevented that vast cruelty Jews and gypsies in Europe suffered during the '30s and '40s, but though so much was lost, there were survivors and, as the concert proved, their music and traditions live on.

It is worth noting that Sebestyén is known for reviving and performing old Hungarian and gypsy folk music. When Béla Bartók traveled through Hungary on a similar collecting mission in the early 1900s, he stayed with my husband's grandparents in Gyoma, a village in eastern Hungary. My husband's respect for the preservation of historic culture carried on a family tradition.

About the Poet:  Carol Stevens Kner served for many years as managing editor and staff writer at PRINT Magazine. At the age of 60, she left that publication to pursue her interest in writing poems. Her work has appeared in Western Humanities Review, The Paris Review, Heliotrope, North American Review, and other journals. Several of her poems have been set to music by American composer Christopher Berg and performed in concert in New York City. Toadlily Press published her chapbook “Exposure” in 2010. 

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