Oy Sacred Bukhara: A Poem by Tsippy Byron

Image may contain: 9 people, including Uktamoy Khaldarova

Oy Sacred Bukhara (or: Beyond Life and Death*)[1]

by Tsippy Byron

To Azam Obidov

My generous and great-spirited friend.


In July 1942 I was an illusionary idea

In the narrow, sacred alleys of Bukhara;

Threaded along the margins of an exhausted search for satiation;

For a respite from the body’s burden.


I was a quivering anxiety in the alleys of Bukhara,

Of disappearance from the Jewish Book of Life,

Or of a hasty realisation

Not of its time or place:

That I would be born to no bosom;

But to a bluing frost

Of death rising from lips and toes.


I was the apprehension of an inadvertent cry

Arresting escape.

And also, an abstract hope for routine

For grandchildren’s solace.


You were about 60

Your children spread throughout the globe

And in all the Death Camps.

Like the risk dispersion of a sophisticated investor.

The mercy of not knowing your children’s fate,

Wrapped you as a shawl.

All you wanted was to pass the days

And reach the distancing rim

Of a home, a meal and an eiderdown.


A lady of a big city:

Theatre, café’s,

Slowly rolled by sudden trains,

In strange torments,

Far away

To an Uzbek city.

Its generous people left roots in their fields

For the hungry.

And you,

Who could not distinguish

Between good and bad

Collected what you did not know

Together with sheaves of poisonous weeds

To fill the pot.


Oy grandma, oy babushka

I wasn’t there

And my father was chasing a capricious wind

Carrying food coupons

While you were sated by poison.


With the trembling knees of a pilgrim to the Ka’aba

To the divine step,

To the hair of the Beard of the Prophet,

(My father’s shaved hair was swarming with guilt and lice)

I will place my feet in the footsteps of his lonely grief,

And helpless desperation at not placing a tombstone.


With the trembling knees of a pilgrim,

I will stand opposite the incidental, small escape that

Sufficed like a miracle,

Like a portion of bread,

To open for him and for me

A chance for life.


Near papa’s invisible ka’abah

With a stuttering prayer

That will invent consolation from the distance of years

I will become holy for a miniscule minute

With Hebrew words, journeys and pilgrimage.


And this small flame, grandma,

Will vaporize what is dissipated.

And the rest of your unlived life

Will take off like a messenger pigeon

With a ringed witness

Beyond Life & Death.


Nevertheless, I carry your name,

And with my dead fathers’ decree,

I am here,

Fulfilling a heart’s desire

That could lighten his life,

And perhaps also

The torments of your death.


[1] In memory of my Grandmother, The Late Feigel Levin Peretz, who died and was buried without a tombstone on 1st August, 1942 in the Ashkenazy section of the Jewish cemetery of Bukhara