Door in the River

Gail Ivy Berlin


My mother’s lonelinesswas a well.

How could she get out,
with so many dead around her?

Having no walls,—-her grief could have no doors,
and how could she get out?

She gave me her grief to carry.
It had the weight of a heartbeat,

and how could I put it down?

I gave her an hour.I gave her roses.
It was not enough.
I gave her a month.—-I gave her pear trees in blossom.
It was not enough.
I offered her the chalice of my days, heavy in my hands.

I looked away, just for a moment—
Flash of a cardinal from maple to curbstone!
And because I looked away,

I was not enough.

Finally, I built a door of strong oak and set it between us.
Closed it.

On one side she stood, an old woman in the river,
the door I had built there—a wailing, ravening darkness, her old,
old fear of the land that swallowed children.


Gail Ivy Berlin is a professor emerita of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She has published articles dealing with both Medieval and Holocaust literatures. A daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she spends her time figuring out how emotions work.  Most recently, she has published poems in Hail, Radiant Star: Seven Medievalist Poets.



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