in North Miami Beach, almost thirty floors up,
there’s an Orthodox Jew smoking a cigarette and gasping
at the ocean. I do that too sometimes, wondering if
the waves think they can catch up to one another.
I am jogging and dodging feral cats who weren’t here
a few years ago, but dart about like water-less minnows
across this path, and I wonder if this smoking Jew is
from Paris. There are lots of French-speakers down
here and their words swim into my ears soaked
with Yiddish I don’t understand but understand.
And I am a Reform Jew, if that, and I don’t smoke,
but I am running and thinking of Grandpa who smoked
a pipe and how he was Orthodox for a while in NY,
but he never talked to me about that, nor about much
of anything from his past. He spoke German until
he fled the Gestapo on some rickety ship to Brazil
where he learned Portuguese and made it
to the States and learned English and how to be
an American citizen—he did tell me about that.
I speak un peu du Francais, the “pretty” language
Grandpa told me to study instead of the ugly claw
of German, but can’t imagine having to flee my home,
my country, my language for simply being what I was
born to be and I am agnostic and believe God shakes
his head like Grandpa used to while He watches religion
puff and puff and blow too much down. And there was
Bullay’s mayor telling Oma to sell everything for something
or get nothing at all. Either way, she had to leave.
And Oma took everything she could fit in a suitcase
rather than take anything Nazi. And she ended
up in New York and her mom ended in Theresienstadt
or Auschwitz, we’ll never know. And as I double back
past the Monte Carlo I look up to see if the French Jew
is still there, but I can’t even see remnants of smoke
testifying he even existed. Was he there at all?
Was He? And I think of how there are no more
Kahns living in Germany. Puff—some mirrors
and smoke trick—and I wonder what my Grandfather
would or wouldn’t say in between puffs of his pipe,
at what it’s like to be a Jew in Paris or one standing
alone on the roof of a hotel in Miami Beach
as clouds slow-march over waves that billow
and billow towards some kind of safe shore.
by Peter Kahn
The Poetry Centre has just launched its International Poetry Competition for 2020! We’re delighted to say that our judge this year is the Forward Prize-winning poet Fiona Benson. As always, we have two categories: Open and English as an Additional Language. The winners receive £1000, with £200 for the runners up. For more details and to enter, visit our website.
The Centre also recently launched the online publication of the e-anthology ‘My teeth don’t chew on shrapnel’: an anthology of poetry by military veterans. This anthology features exciting, moving, and provocative work by US and UK veterans who were participants in workshops held by the Poetry Centre in 2019-20 and also includes writing about veterans and some writing prompts. The anthology is free to download from the Poetry Centre website and we would very much welcome your feedback! E-mail us or fill out the short form on the site.
‘On top of the Monte Carlo’ is copyright © Peter Kahn, 2020. It is reprinted from Little Kings (Nine Arches Press, 2020) by permission of Nine Arches Press. You can read more about the book here. Peter will be launching the book virtually with Nine Arches on 24 June at 7.30pm and you can attend by visiting this link.
Peter Kahn’s debut collection Little Kings is an astonishing book of astute and deeply humane poetry, one which seeks to find in both teaching and learning a common ground, and between longing and belonging an equilibrium. Intuitive and wise, Kahn’s poems remain compelling even when exploring those places where there is ‘no vocabulary for what might happen’. Little Kings encompasses stories of the Jewish diaspora and of American life, interweaving narratives of escape and refuge, of yearning and absence. Some of these poems ricochet with the magnitude of loss and violence, with lives interrupted, half-lived, or vanished. Anchoring these poems is their immense grace and lyricism, and Kahn’s great skill in tenderly carrying memory and experience into our shared understanding. Find out more about the book here and listen to Peter read some poems from it here.
Peter Kahn is a founding member of the London poetry collective Malika’s Kitchen. He has twice been a commended poet in the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition. A co-founder of the London Teenage Poetry Slam, Peter also founded the Spoken Word Education Training Programme as a Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths University. Now based in Chicago, he holds an MA in English Education from The Ohio State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University.
Since its founding in 2008, Nine Arches Press has published poetry and short story collections (under the Hotwire imprint), as well as Under the Radar magazine. In 2010, two of our pamphlets were shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet prize and Mark Goodwin’s book Shod won the 2011 East Midlands Book Award. In 2017, All My Mad Mothers by Jacqueline Saphra was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize. Our titles have also been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Prize, and in 2016 David Clarke’s debut poems, Arc, was longlisted for the Polari Prize. To date we have published over ninety poetry publications. Read more about the press here and follow Nine Arches on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.