Shelley Savren







Between Us

          for Elijah, who enlisted to play in the army band

          after three draft notices, hoping to avoid Viet Nam


No matter how many stories you tell, how many poems

you write about Viet Nam, the boys who became lost soldiers

crawling through jungles, returning from the bush

with that wild and empty look, surprised to be alive,

who found comfort in music and heroin, pure cut,

about the mama-sans dutifully emptying barrels of GI shit,

teenage prostitutes, farm girls really, and the line of GIs,

about bunkers built on graves, ghosts rising in rice paddies beyond,

endless guard duty patrolling the perimeter with a semi-automatic

and too tight boots, listening for any sound in the wire,

the silence of an ammo dump with enough TNT to blow a small village,

about a boy crossing a swamp on a water buffalo,

War Dog who guarded you, who never barked, the comfort of his growl,

his silent pant as you searched the northern sky to find home;

no matter how many times you describe the starkness of the land

after a bomb, the 130 degree heat that tugged at your skin,

the relentless monsoon as if it were trying to wash the war away,

the absurdity of soldiers as bandsmen preparing for a concert

that would never be played, marching through potholes,

transported in a giant helicopter with a hatch that severed a leg once,

helicopters that could be shot down every single time;

no matter how many words you use to evoke those images,

I can only listen as your tongue rolls out each syllable,

forming landscapes where a young soldier, harnessed to a rifle

and a clarinet, steps deliberately, searching for the reason

he was yanked out of school, then returned to a place

where life somehow continued, where no one, nothing waited,

as if that boy would never return, and he never really did.



“Between Us” appeared in *Serving House Journal*





          God called to Moses

          from within the burning bush.  –  Exodus 3


Leap into the fire.  Come into the light. 

In the fierce heat of Ein Gedi

goats graze.  Camels fold their legs.

But atop the Masada a thousand people pray.


In the fierce heat of Ein Gedi

lizards retreat beneath broken rocks.

But atop the Masada a thousand people pray

as a file of soldiers approach.


Lizards retreat beneath broken rocks.

I hear horses below. The Romans are coming! 

As a file of soldiers approach,

their rising blades slice the air.


I hear horses below. The Romans are coming!

They are climbing up the mountain.

Their rising blades slice the air.

Children scream.


They are climbing up the mountain.

Warning caws of black birds,

children scream.

We will burn before we are taken as slaves.


Warning caws of black birds.

Our synagogue will fall;

We will burn before we are taken as slaves!

Dust lifts and I smell date palms.


Our synagogue will fall.

Sweet rainwater cools in cisterns.

Dust lifts and I smell date palms.

The voice of God is calling!  Shema!


Sweet rainwater cools in cisterns.

Goats graze.  Camels fold their legs.

The voice of God is calling: Shema!

Leap into the fire.  Come into the light! 




The Mayor of Ra’anana


He called his older sister Mama

but the photo in his hallway

was the same as on my grandma’s shelf

of their mother, killed in Auschwitz.


He wouldn’t say how he survived the camp,

because Nazis favored blonds

because he was only 20 and fit to work

because he cleaned a capo’s room each day


for an extra piece of bread.

My cousins gleaned it was because

he dug graves outside the crematorium

and didn’t pry gold teeth from gassed bodies,


marched the Auschwitz death march

from Poland to central Germany

and didn’t die

of hunger or exhaustion or from cold.


He marched when war was over,

home to Romania,

joined the underground, smuggling Jews

on boats from Transylvania to Palestine.


He saw his family, the last time, getting off

the train in Auschwitz.  Next day, a Nazi pointed,

See the smoke coming from that oven? 

That’s your mother.



“The Mayor of Ra’anana” appeared in *Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices*










Shelley Savren’s poetry books are The Common Fire (Red Hen Press 2004) and The Wild Shine of Oranges  (Tebot Bach Press 2013). She holds an M.F.A. from Antioch University Los Angeles and is widely published in literary magazines. Her awards include:  nine California Arts Council Artist in Residence grants, three National Endowment for the Arts regional grants, five artist fellowships from the City of Ventura, first place in the 1994 John David Johnson Memorial Poetry Award and a Pushcart Prize nomination.  She is an English Professor Emeritus at Oxnard College and conducts workshops through California Poets in the Schools.


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