Abe Osheroff II
In Feburary I posted an article about the fine old radical and Spanish Civil War Veteran Abe Osheroff. While perusing the web today I found a poem about the shipwreck he survived enroute to Barcelona. Submitted for your approval....
"The Carpenter Swam to Spain"
For Abe Osheroffand the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
The ship hushed the waves to sleep at midnight:
Ciudad de Barcelona, Ciudad de Barceloniz.
In the name of the aristocrat strolling through his garden
Franco's tanks crawled like a plague of smoldering beetles;
in the name of the bishop and his cathedrals
the firing squads sang a stuttering mass with smoke in their throats;
in the name of the exiled king and blueshirts
on the march bombers with swastika fins
sowed an inferno in village market places
and the ribs of the dead.
At Guernica an ancient woman in black stumbled
across a corpse and clawed her hair;
at Víznar, where the spring bubbles,
a poet in white shoes coughed the bullets' blood onto his white shirt,
gypsy sobbing in the cave of his mouth.
Ciudad de Barcelona: The ship plowed the ocean,
and the ocean was a wheatfield of bread.
And the faces at the portholes thinking: Spain.
In España, the carpenters and miners
kneeled with rifles behind a barricade of killed horses,
the peasant boys cradled grenades
like pomegranatesto fling against the plague of tanks,
the hive of helmets.
Elsewhere across the earth, thousands more laid hammers in toolboxes,
holstered drills, promised letters home,
and crowded onto ships for Spain:
volunteers for the Republic,
congregation of berets, fedoras and fist-salutes for the camera,
cigarettes and union songs.
The handle of the hammer became the stock of the rifle.
The ship called Ciudad de Barcelona steamed
across the thumping tide, hull bearded with foam,
the body of Spain slumbering on the horizon.
Another carpenter read the newspapers
by the tunnel-light of the subway in Brooklyn.
Abe Osheroff sailed for Spain.
Because Franco's mustache was stiff as a paintbrush
with his cousins' blood:
because Hitler's iron maw would be a bulldozer,
heaving a downpour of cadavers into common graves.
The ship of volunteers was Ciudad de Barcelona,
Abe the carpenter among them,
and for them the word Barcelona tingled like the aftertaste of a kiss.
Two miles from shore, they saw the prop plane hover
as if a spectre from the last war,
the pilot's hand jab untranslated warning.
Then the thud, a heart kicking in spasm,
the breastbone of the ship punctured by a torpedo
from Mussolini's submarine.
In seven minutes, the ship called Ciudad de Barcelona
tilted and slid into the gushing sea,
at every porthole a face trapped,
mouth round and silent like the porthole.
Eighty mouths round in the high note of silence.
Schultz, captain of the Brooklyn College swim team,
pinned below deck and drowned,
his champion's breaststroke flailing.
Other hands that could swim burst through the wave-walls
and reached for the hands that could not.
The boats of a fishing village crystallized from the foam,
a fleet of saints with salt glistening in their beards,
blankets and rum on the shore.
Abe swam two miles to Spain,
made trowels of his hands to cleave the thickening water.
His fingers learned the rifle's trigger as they knew the hammer's claw.
'At Fuentes de Ebro, armageddon babbled
and wailed above the trenches;
when he bled there, an ocean of shipwreck surged through his body.
Today, his white beard
is a garland of clouds and sea-foam,
and he remembers Schultz, the swimmer.
Now, for Abe, I tap these words like a telegraph operator with news of survivors:
Ciudad de Barcelona, Ciudad de Barcelona.