width=61 height=87> Alan Kaufman
Featured Poet


In addition to his several collections, Alan Kaufman's poetry appears extensively in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Identity Lessons: Learning American Style (Penguin Books, Nov. '98), ALOUD:Voices From The Nuyorican Poets Cafe (Henry Holt), Tikkun, Witness and Long Shot.

Both critics and editors have been generous in their praise for Kaufman. He has been called a "A new young Kerouac" by the San Francisco Chronicle and and "A great young poet" by the San Francisco Weekly. Neeli Cherkovski, the biographer of Charles Bukowski, has compared Kaufman to such writers as Whitman, Jack London and Henry Miller.

Kaufman is a frequent traveler throughout the United States and the World. A veteran of New York City's Nuyorican Poets Cafe, he has given readings throughout Europe, including England, Scotland, Germany, Austria, Israel and Holland and his poetry is translated and widely published in German and Swedish.

Who Are We?

Into the past 
I go like a stranger
to discover why at night
I lay alone as a child
waiting for the front door
to slam, my father gone
to night-shift work,
and my mother, Marie, to enter,
unable to sleep, and tell me
tales of childhood 
war, pursued by those
who, as she spoke,
seemed to enter the room,
Gestapo men in leather coats
who ordered me to pack
and descend to a waiting truck,
for I am still going to Auschwitz
though a grown man in 1998
I am still boarding the freight,
crushed against numbed, frightened
Jews and Gypsies and Russian
soldiers and homosexuals
crossing frontiers to be gassed

I am her, in my heart,
though I am six feet two
and two hundred and ten pounds
and have played college football
and served as a soldier
and have scars from fights
with knives and jagged
bottles smashed on bars

I am still her, little girl,
hiding in chicken coops 
and forests, asleep on dynamite
among partisans
I am still her, brushing teeth
with ashes
from the ruins of nations
gutted in war

I am still her brown eyes
and black hair of persecution
foraging scraps of thistle soup,
a star-shaped patch
sewn to my shirt

I am still my mother 
every day in the streets
of New York or San Francisco,
the chimney skies glow and swirl
with soot like night above
a crematorium, or the Bronx
incinerator chute where I
threw out trash in a brick
darkness shooting sparks

I am still her in the streets
of Berkeley, walking among
sparechangers, dyed-hair punkers,
gays in stud leather, Blacks,
Mexicans and Asians

I am still her rounded up
among poets and thieves
and politically incorrect
social deviants
on sun-drenched sidewalks
in the Mission and the Haight,
Greenwich Village, the Lower
East Side, or anywhere the weird
congregate in tolerance

And every day in this age
of intolerance,
in a mental ghetto
affirmed by the homeless,
I pass the dying 
with the loud ring of my boots,
ashamed to think that perhaps
my heels are the last thing
they heard
Every day I am a 
survivor of AIDS and poverty

Every day I sit in cafes
watching tattoos turn to numbers
and I grow angry
I want America back
I want America to be
the home I never had

And you, who are you
if you hear my voice?
Who are you, stranger
if you read these words?

Who are we
who stand threatened 
in these times of darkness?
Who are we, condemned to die,
who do not know ourselves
at all?

Copyright  1998 Alan Kaufman

Originally appeared in Zuzu's Petals Quarterly
Reproduced by permission of author





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