Born in Poland, Helen Degen Cohen spent her early years in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw. At the start of World War II she fled with her family to Byelorussia. As her parents became involved with the resistance movement, they decided to send Helen to the safety of the countryside. There she was cared for by a Catholic woman. After the war her family returned to Warsaw to find nothing left of their old life. Cohen’s poems have appeared in the Spoon River Quarterly and in Charles Fishman’s Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust.
Poem about the many days in hiding
with a Catholic woman in a countryside
beside a place called War.
Once, in hiding, we went open-
riding in a lenient sleigh
buoyant on the lack of sound and motion
sleep weaving through a back country
my white-haired "lady saint" and I
our frozen faces craning
one soft hour the sound of bells was all.
We were missed by the storm
in its silent eye:
mounds of forest meandered past us
and nearer, more intricate intrusions
fled like calendars behind
their knowledge of our presence-
nature had to wait, we folded leaves
to dream in our escape, the sleigh
was like a god-crib carried by
some fabled beast across her snowy haven
and it hazed the deep green to a waiting green
where animals we knew of kindly
slept unblessed. Our war went still
and deep, around the weightless sleigh.
And now, in a trembling present,
tense with the lunacy of peace
such as it is-a masquerade in blooming
shades of sacrifice, of comfort jaws
and love-drops like the red of war-
I crane my turtle-head for frozen air,
into the soft escape, the easy ride,
I hear, beside the child I was,
those solitary bells of joy
pulling her lonely sleigh.