Blood Memory begins with a brief and solemn, “Prayer to Remember” and sets the tone with reverence and appreciation. It is above all a connection of the poet to her family, who were caught up in the Holocaust. Gail herself was born in a displaced person’s camp just after the war where her parents met and married.
The first section shows us what the world was like for Gail’s parents and multitudes of others when cruel manipulation of humanity, through politics, was extreme and fear reigned. There was fear of being labeled, abused, treated like cattle or killed for no valid reason and there was fear to say the leaders were wrong, inhumane and must be stopped. From Breath: …They looked away. They said later they did not see—/in open daylight, at the news stand, /in front of the café— In My Mother in the Łód ́z Ghetto Gail tells us how bodies littered the ground. Some were children. They had been pushed/to the side or into the gutter, where my mother/stepped around or over them—/their bodies cold, blue, finished/with God.
What can you do when it seems the world has turned against you? There’s always something. In My Mother Remembers /Hafsstadt Labor Camp: Piece by piece, bending our heads down to the work, we put the wrong part in the wrong hole,/so the guns would not fire.
Gratitude reigns in section II, Lost language. After the war, life was beautiful in comparison. From I Came Into the World: People were singing. The floor shook with dance./I came into a house where I was a stranger/and was made welcome./My mother gave me her body, my father/ his voice. I stood between them, faltering./The walls of the house rose up around us. From A Short Engagement:…everything after the war/was beautiful. This was not home,/ but it was somewhere. Not long after the marriage Gail was born. Her mother works while her Aunt tends her. The doctor tells her mother her breasts are not giving enough milk. From Everything: It is too soon after the war, and my parents want so much right away./ Everything they own is in my body.” Gratitude for simple things continues in Braiding…guiding the fabric between his hands,/ the needle dipping in and out like a bee/ inside the honey of a flower.
In Part III, Living with the Dead, Gail speaks about her father in Elegy: His shoes are still in his closet,/lined up like sentries to guard the past. When visiting Mount Sinai Jewish Cemetery and she is asked about her own burial plans it is easy to understand her words: I’ll take the good earth, a simple pine box, dressed in white, barefoot, face scrubbed, my blood intact in my veins—as I am.// …and we will go together,/not led like harnessed horses/ or leashed dogs// but streaming forward like the sun/ when it settles on the fields in summer.
On Valentine’s Day her heart swells while visiting her mother. …how when I stand before the mirror combing my hair, I see my mother’s eyes, and happiness wells up like a wave without warning. //…She speaks of the weather,/today being only itself./Her time is reeling in, a line cast/from shore. But how she loves/ the sea, the horizon, the flaming sun!
The last lines to the last poem in Blood Memory are: I stood at the gravesites, feet soaked in mugged earth./ I lay down my body in wet leaves./I remembered them. This book is a testament to our never ending connection to history, acknowledgement in the present, and a projection of love, and lessons, into the future.
Hear Gail read a few poems and a brief interview with her in GAS: Poetry, Art and Music video show. (Interview starts at 22 seconds).