Wednesday, June 1, 2016

DC Poets: Myra Sklarew

Editor's Note: When Halvard Johnson invited me to curate Truck this month,  I was grateful for the opportunity to feature many of the poets who have had an impact on poetry in the Washington, DC area.  Many of June's poets have been creators of A Splendid Wake, which is a volunteer-run group of writers dedicated to documenting the history of poetry in the nation's capitol.  Through maintaining a wiki  and a blog,  as well as holding yearly events, the group strives to keep the work of poets from 1900 to the present in the public's memory.  It's only fitting that one of A Splendid Wake's founders,  Myra Sklarew, will be our first poet: she has been a gifted and generous poet and teacher for many years, and I am honored to include her poem, "Exile."


By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept.
Upon the willows we hanged up our harps
                                                           Psalm 137

How little we know
of the threads of exile.

Sanctity torn from the fabric
of life. Ceremony of the daily

evaporated.  Repetition boiling up
in burning memory.

We refuse to sing the words
of home that our captors might laugh.

Nor watch as they raze the great temple
or break the most tender among us

against stone. But how powerful,
memory.  It happens again

all of the way down to this day. No matter
which caste, what tongue.

The dance of humiliation, the sending
out of the land, the purposeful killing.

How little we know
of tribal divisions

nor how a man educated and cultured
does not mind the sight

of a head unsewn from its body.
Nor a field littered with bodies,

the songs of their prayers
hovering in the air above them.

The few who escape
are no better off, their tickets

to nowhere stitched
into their meager sustenance.

Myra Sklarew is the author of 12 collections of poetry as well as short fiction, essays, and the forthcoming  A Survivor Named Trauma: Holocaust and the Construction of Memory, Suny Press.  The paperback edition of The Journey of Child Development has just been released by Taylor & Francis. Two manuscripts, recently completed, include Lie Perfectly Still: Essays on Mortality and Healing and a poetry collection, Sing, Little Collar Button. 
She currently serves on the advisory board of Furious Flower Poetry Center whose purpose is “Seeding the Future of African American Poetry,” on the board of the Center for Israeli Studies, at American University,  and, for the past four years as part of A Splendid Wake, an effort to document, archive and bring to public attention, through annual programs at George Washington University, poets in Washington, D.C. from 1900 to the present.


  1. I shared this poem with my students who were impressed by Myra's poem in Full Moon on K Street. I hope that they will enjoy this poem as well.

  2. A very powerful poem and very timely as well.