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The Nuns Gave Me Shelter
Artist's note: Abba Kovner (1918-1987) was one of the founding leaders of the United Organization of Partisans, which was formed in the Vilna ghetto as an armed resistance to the Nazis. After WWII he eventually settled in kibbutz Ein Hahoresh where he dedicated most of his time to writing. In 1970 Kovner received the Israel Prize for Literature. He once commented, "Who are the living and the dead? I don't know how to answer this question. But I believe there is one place in the world without cemeteries. This is the place of poetry." During the German occupation of Vilna in 1941, Kovner hid with a few other partisans temporarily in a Dominican convent.
The nuns gave me shelter -- hiding
me from those who would kill me --
there in the cellar of their convent,
below with the wine, the formal linens,
and also now a Jew. I spent many days
in the dark, and I must say I reached
a point of mind where I could think
of nothing but the odd sexuality of
the sisters; forgive me, but it's true:
the rustling of their habits, the purity
of their faces -- the younger ones I should
say -- and the way they seek to appear
as androgynous . . . there in the dark,
these women became quite alluring,
as though making love to them would
bring me nearer to God, but it's true: every
man wants to think the act of sex is a carnal
act enabling a comprehension of infinity,
a religious endeavor, a passion, and if
this is so, just imagine what fruits these
dear nuns would bear, just imagine . . .
but I was crazy, this was me at my most
insane, and in the end, the only thing I gave
these good nuns was my great gratitude.
So forgive me, I simply sat in the dark
far too long.
POETRYREPAIRS 11,03: 027|