Displaced Person by J. J. Steinfeld

Poem title: Displaced Person Poet name: J. J. Steinfeld Poem: How did you get from there to here? That was always the implicit question asked of my mother’s pain and endurance— geography a puzzle of suffering. My mother, small, burdened, and tattooed, a single tattoo that looked like the address to Hell or Gehenna or torment— good luck with language in times of recalling the displacement and death — could tell a darkly wondrous joke and as I waited for her to translate the words from Yiddish to English or in my haste did the translation myself a little too scholarly for my own little boy good the humour was astounding even as the tears of remembrance followed their course and disregard for any dictionary. My mother and I never argued or debated about the heavy hands of history at least that’s how I translated it from the Yiddish on one time-broken occasion I thought maybe strong fists of time but no, that didn’t capture it what does, but I was imprisoned by words and always mixing up captivity and escape, still do. I spent a great deal of my youth finding words for the indefinable inexplicable unfathomable there and here, fleeing, foreign, incomprehension has that funny little evasiveness I could go for the numbers and the literalness I could look at a picture of the entrance to where your toil made you free no joke there, dark or otherwise, until my eyes and mind turn mutinous and insecure voices tell me what I know about Hell could fill a thimble but that was my mother’s expression and she earned the right to be blurred and tell darkly wondrous jokes. How did you get from there to here? Whenever I crossed the street as a child my mother shouted at me to be careful and don’t talk to the men with armbands their boots making noise even deafness cannot block out. And as she caught me at the door wanting to go out and play like a real over-here boy she told me about the dangers over there which she brought with her lightened only by her little boy endangered as he might be and her darkly wondrous jokes. End of poem. Credits and bio: Copyright © J. J. Steinfeld Previously published in Identity Dreams and Memory Sounds: Poetry New & Selected (Ekstasis Editions, 2014) by J. J. Steinfeld. Poet, fiction writer, and playwright J. J. Steinfeld was born in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany, of Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor parents, and lives on Prince Edward Island, where he is patiently waiting for Godot’s arrival and a phone call from Kafka. While waiting, he has published 24 books, including An Unauthorized Biography of Being (Stories, Ekstasis Editions, 2016), Absurdity, Woe Is Me, Glory Be (Poetry, Guernica Editions, 2017), A Visit to the Kafka Café (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions, 2018), Gregor Samsa Was Never in The Beatles (Stories, Ekstasis Editions, 2019), Morning Bafflement and Timeless Puzzlement (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions, 2020), Somewhat Absurd, Somehow Existential (Poetry, Guernica Editions, 2021), Acting on the Island (Stories, Pottersfield Press, 2022), and As You Continue to Wait (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions, 2022). His short stories and poems have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies internationally, and over 60 of his one-act plays and a handful of full-length plays have been performed in Canada and the United States.