One Thousand Years - Poems By David Ray


REVIEW by Sherman Pearl

Sixty years after the Holocaust, haven't we mourned enough? Hasn't it all been said? After all the recounting, haven't we had our fill?

David Ray's answer, in these powerfully plain-spoken poems, is a resounding "No!"

ONE THOUSAND YEARS is unrelenting in its insistence that we keep remembering, keep saying "Never again;" that we recognize the storm troopers still among us. Its hitterness, its warnings, drive nails into our complacency.

...some of us praise the rare bird

who sings with integrity,

the one who tries to awaken the town,

for we were born in the wrong land

to be war criminals,

some of us say.

Ray rightfully insists that the "Thousand Years" include our times. He writes without artifice--bare-boned and vivid as a cattle car headed for Auschwitz. He is truthful to a fault. If there is a fault, it's that the poems tend to lapse into straightforward prose, without the leaps that embellish the language and deepen its meaning. While all of the work feels powerful and authentic, it too often lacks the metaphorical surprises that make poetry memorable.

The poet seems to be saying "Here are the facts, swallow them whole." The reader must decide how they taste.

Kent was a boy in knee pants when he saw the first bonfire, books carried out and hurled into the flames, gleeful faces aglow.

We've seen such images before, and the poem "A Photograph from 1935," a tribute to a Holocaust survivor, might have made a better short story. More moving as a poem, for this reviewer, is one titled "Schuldig."

And what's proved? Men who scrawled

equations on blackboards later spoke

of their shame and fervent wish

they could unmake their bomb.

As for the Germans, let us think of those

who looked at their hands, saw, smelled,

and found no blood.

The power of Ray's poems is its accumulation of stories and incidents, one stark brick laid on another until we too are walled into a ghetto, awaiting the trains. He doesn't let us escape until we realize where we are.