Helen Degen Cohen--Polish/American



Helen Degen Cohen

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.


In Hiding

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

full-away from war

sleep weaving through a back country

my white-haired "lady saint" and I

our frozen faces craning

out of homespun colors:

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,

then burrowing

into the soft escape, the easy ride,

I hear, beside the child I was,

those solitary bells of joy

pulling her lonely sleigh.