Into the Garden: Liviu Librescu

In memory of the Holocaust survivor who saved a classroom

I grew up wary of doors:
open, they could give you away;
closed, they could stop your heart
with a knock at midnight.
Humans were herded into pens like animals.
Let us go once more into the garden, my friends.

As an adult under Ceausescu
I learned to fear the walls & the furniture,
anywhere an electronic ear could be hidden.
Only outside could we speak
about our dreams.
Let us go once more into the garden.

When I told them I wanted to emigrate to Israel,
all of Romania became my jail.
Fired from my job, I still left the house
every day with my briefcase
so the children wouldn’t suspect anything,
so they could grow up without fear.
I mailed a manuscript out of the country
disguised as a series of letters.
Let us go, my friends, let us go.

Fears should be faced in the open.
Too long indoors, & the mind
grows walls of its own.
Even here in Blacksburg, one day
a tree fell on my house–
anything can happen.
Let us go once more
into the garden.

UPDATE: You can listen to the poem here.

12 Comments


  1. I don’t see these around much. (What are these? Elegies, not eulogies, I guess. Non-cheesy elegies.) These lines have the weight of a poet’s responsibility, as I think a lot of Milosz’s have. If poetry can help heal (and I suppose tragedy may sometimes open us to poetry), then this one should be rushed to Blacksburg.

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  2. The voice in this poem is so compelling. It pulls something from another man’s life as a way of summoning our understanding of the ordinary and extraordinary. Beautifully done, Dave.

    BTW– My cousin’s sons played with Librescu’s sons in Blacksburg years ago when the children were young. On the day of the shooting, my cousin called me to say that she’d heard from Zachary (her eldest), he told her that a friend’s dad had been among the murdered. It was Librescu.

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  3. This is beautiful, thanks for sharing it. I wonder if this came in a fit of inspiration? It feels very spontaneous to me anyway.

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  4. Thank you for posting this. Liviu Librescu’s voice comes through clear and true.

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  5. I always worry about what we can say–what we permit ourselves, ethically, to say–about someone else’s grief. Especially if it has been in the news, especially if it is someone whose work we did not know of until they died. And most especially if the death was spectacular.

    But this is such a strong poem, Dave, and if a public elegy is to be written at all, this is how to do it. I came into it against it, but emerged unexpectedly moved. Thank you.

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  6. Thanks for the kind words. This expected voice thing is always tricky, so I’m glad to hear that at least a few people thought it worked here.

    robin andrea – “Summoning” is exactly the right word for what poems like this one are trying to do, I think.

    Joe – Not exactly a fit, but I did write it all in one go, in the course of about two hours yesterday morning – or three hours if you count the germination period after I read the article that sparked it.

    Teju – I tend to think the dead are beyond grief, though I could be very wrong about that. Actually I tend not to believe in an afterlife at all – except when I am writing poems like this one. I’m glad to hear that you approached it with a properly skeptical view.

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  7. Sorry Dave, my comment was unclear. I meant the grief of the living (relatives, etc) not that of the dead. The two “someone”s weren’t meant to be the same.

    Good poem.

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