“The mouth speechless”—Isn’t that what grief brings us to, ecstasy and grief, those most primal emotions that take us somewhere beyond the rational, into the body, into a making that has to let itself be taken over and cannot just choose what to say, has to be said through? So in Ellen Goldsmith’s poem, Trauerarbeit, “remember this,” there is the question of how to speak and the necessity of doing so. There’s the remembering of not just one thing, one side. What is remarkable about this poem is that it is willing to sit in its question, in its not knowing, in its fragments, as the only way to approach the whole complexity of history and grief, the pain that causes pain—the impossibility of saying. And yet saying.

Ellen Goldsmith reads, writes, and teaches poetry. Her books include Left Foot, Right FootWhere to LookSuch Distances and No Pine Tree in This Forest Is Perfect which won the 1997 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Contest. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and in anthologies. Professor Emeritus of the City University of New York, she lives in Cushing, Maine.

Betsy Sholl, MAJ Poetry editor



after the tapestry of a face by Alan Magee


The face holds the pain

So many shades of black and gray

Eyes                                           lakes of tears

Nose               a broken bridge

The mouth                    speechless

What can it say?

But it must.


The work of mourning is to tell the story.

Over and over At the dinner table In school In casual conversation

The sign at the beginning of the road reads:

This is the route to accept the unacceptable.


Last night I watched the movie Munich and saw bombs and guns

kill the Black September terrorists who killed the Jewish athletes.

To be or not to be. To kill or not to kill.


I wake to the news of another power outage in Gaza and more deaths.

Heavy fog softens the town.


Ellen Goldsmith


Note: Trauerarbeit means “the work of mourning” and was brought back into currency in the 1970s by the German psychologists Margarete and Alexander Mitscherlich. Their 1967 book, The Inability to Mourn, addressed German denial of the holocaust—a social numbness which was then widespread.


Image at top: Alan Magee, Trauerarbeit, woven cotton tapestry, 108 x 77 in., 2004.