Series Editor - Jim Bennett

Introduction by Jim Bennett

Hello.  Welcome to a new series of CITN.  We will be looking at the work of individual poets in each edition and I hope it will help our readers to discover some new and exciting writing.  This series is open to all to submit and I am now keen to read new work for this series.


CITN 51. This  edition features the poetry of NORBERT HIRSCHHORN


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I was in Deutschland once, my father sleeping rough,

evading the Gestapo until we could all escape.

I was once in a marriage, sleeping rough,

no idea how to get somewhere I didn’t even know,

searching for love where it couldn’t be found.


                 from Directions by Norbert Hirschhorn




















Norbert Hirschhorn is a physician specializing in the public health of women, children and communities in the USA and the Third World.  In 1993 he was commended by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero.”  His work has been recognized by awards from the Dana and Pollin Foundations.  He currently lives in London and Beirut.  In 1994 Hirschhorn received a Master in Fine Arts degree from Vermont College. 


His first pamphlet, Renewal Soup and his first full collection, A Cracked River, were published by Slow Dancer Press (UK) in 1996 and 1999. Two pamphlets followed resulting from competitions: The Empress of Certain from Poet’s Corner Press, Stockton, California, in 2005; and Sailing with the Pleiades from Main Street Rag Publishing Co. North Carolina, 2007. A fourth pamphlet, The Terrible Crystal, was published in 2008 by Hearing Eye Press, UK.  A second full collection, Mourning in the Presence of a Corpse, appeared in 2008 from Dar al-Jadeed, Lebanon.  A third collection, Night-Time Shadows, is now out to publishers.


His poems have appeared (or will) in the following journals in the US and UK (in alphabetic order):


Acumen (UK), Anon (UK), Ardent (US), Caduceus (US)  Cave Wall (US), Ekphrasis (US), 5AM (US), The Frogmore Papers (UK), Hunger Mountain (US), Journal of Medical Humanities (US), Kites (UK), Littoral (UK), Magma (UK) Mediphors (US), Minnesota Monthly (US), New Haven Advocate (US), Nottingham Poetry (UK), Poetry (Chicago, US), Prairie Schooner (US), Rising (UK), Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts (US), Slow Dancer (UK), South Bank Poetry (UK), Southern Poetry Review (US), Southwest Journal (US), the eleventh muse (US), The Federal Poet (US), The New England Journal of Medicine (US), The Wolf (UK), Texas Observer (US), Wind (US). 


Poems on-line include Blackbird (www.blackbird.vcu.edu ),  Szirine (www.szirine.com ), Transparent Words (UK, http://www.poetrykit.org/pkl/tw9/tw4front.htm), Poets of London (http://www.poetsoflondon.org ) , and Winning Writers (www.winningwriters.com ), The Horror Zine (November 2009 featured poet) http://www.thehorrorzine.com/poetry.html.


Hirschhorn’s poems have also appeared in several anthologies: “Vital Signs - The UCLA Collection of Physicians’ Poetry” (1990); “Blood and Bone” (University of Iowa Press, 1998); “Primary Care: More Poems by Physicians” (University of Iowa Press 2006); Highgate Poets Thirtieth Anniversary Anthology; The Shuffle; Torriano Nights (a Festschrift for John Rety). 


His poems have won prizes in five UK competitions: Ware Poets, Manchester Cathedral, Prospect Burma (International competition, first place) Nottingham Open Poetry Competition, Frogmore Poetry Prize. In the US, a finalist in: the Chester H. Jones Foundation National Poetry Competition, the Southern Poetry Review Competition, the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Awards, Main Street Rag Annual Chapbook Competition.


Hirschhorn has also published essays on the health and history of Emily Dickinson (New England Quarterly, Bulletin of the Emily Dickinson International Society, Journal of Psychohistory), Mary Todd Lincoln (Journal of the History of Medicine, Lincoln Herald), Abraham Lincoln (Perspectives in Biology and Medicine), and Louisa May Alcott (Perspectives in Biology and Medicine).  He writes a regular op-ed column on the arts and science for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minnesota.








            (Uncle Bernie, 1912-1993)


For the lullaby story of butterflies and gnomes,

            Three moons and a cracked river.


For the hairy, fleshy hands pulling coins from my ear,

            Three moons and a cracked river.


For blue silk suits, perfumed face, and blue-nimbus cigar,

            Three moons and a cracked river.


For loud kisses we traded on each other's bald head,

            Three moons and a cracked river.


And for the mute blind dwarf curled up like a molt,

            Three moons...a cracked river.



I WILL ALLOW MYSELF JUST ONE POLITICAL POEM                                                    


I will ravage your trees, the ones your father planted,

            and their fathers before them,

            so your children must sit in the boiling sun,

            so I may listen to them thirst.


I will smash your houses, scatter gas and glass

            into your eyes, blind you in my rage.


I will hunt you down:

            in your bed, at your table, in your fields.

            Your children will fall in strange streets,

            their mothers keen over empty coffins.


I will choke your nightingales.


I will poison your doves.


My David to your Goliath!  I will crush your head

with missiles, like an egg shattered on rocks.


I will destroy your name.  You have no name.

            I alone will name you.  No one shall know you.

            You shall be a roach unto nations.


I will beat you and burn you and beat you

            until you stop hating me.


                        Now let grief consume our trees -

                        we shall instead plant dead bodies,

                        and eat of them their fruit.





My ancestors once came from Africa,

footprints preserved in volcanic dust,

families walking side-by-side,

trying not to get lost. Their early words

must have been: “How do I get to?…”

a waterhole, safe trails avoiding

sabre-tooth cats. I was in a jungle once,

in Surinam, tracking with our Wayana

Indian guide under high canopies

of birdcall and buzz, when with Darwinian

sheepish grin he announced he was lost;

we had to wait for someone to show us where to go. 

I was in Deutschland once, my father sleeping rough,

evading the Gestapo until we could all escape.

I was once in a marriage, sleeping rough,

no idea how to get somewhere I didn’t even know,

searching for love where it couldn’t be found.

Now in London, I often give directions

to drivers that, since I walk, put them at mercies

of one-way streets; they’re long gone when I

realize how wrong I was; wonder if

they ever found where they wanted to go;

think about directions I’ve always needed:

how to be good, which way to heaven.




“Stand up straight!” my mother said,

“or you’ll turn into a  hunchback

and no one will marry your sister.”


“Size-places, now!” my teacher said.

“Hey, you, stand up straight,

don’t be such a lump.”


“Mister, please, stand up straight, or else

how can I fit the jacket?”


“Why don’t you stand up straight – Oh,

depressed again are we?  Well,

that does it, I’m leaving.”


“Lie down straight,” my mortician said,

“I haven’t got all day.”




Across a wooded trail, shrouded in oak,

in maple: rusted rails, overgrown ties,

and there the remnants of a dining car –

an exquisite tooled frame hollowed out by

cycles of ice, sun, reverting to earth,

its molecules ground down by mice and moles.


Also I by angel-hand designed, wonder

now how to keep whole.  Like Osiris,

I’ve splintered in every major city.

As I vex my wife with this late-life terror,

she turns me to another crossing:


At the Palestine-Israel checkpoint:

barbed wire runs, strip searches,

a heavy rain, dark field clotted with mud,

January’s wind gnawing the cheek,

an Arab day worker, almost old, hard used,

awaiting his ride after eighteen hours

of putting bread on the table.

Every reason to be mean.

He saw my wife standing there,

small, bedraggled, going the other way.

The man gave her, gave her, his umbrella.


Pay attention. We’re all just passing through.

We leave so much, so little: 

atoms, poems, that umbrella.


ON NOT SPEAKING ILL OF THE DEAD                               


When at last I died she dressed me in my best:

Cutaway coat, four-in-hand, Eton collar.

As once I vexed her, now she won't let me rest,

And props me upright in the old front parlor.

At tea-time or when friends come to dine

She defers gravely to my opinion

On life, on art, the temperaments of wine.

All marvel at my mute erudition.


Daily I decay – purulent eyes, scabrous cheeks.

She must enjoy my increasing rank smell –

But for quick whisks I've not been dusted in weeks –

An encore to my own horrid denial:

    The way I treated our love, dead long ago,

    Which I refused to bury, or to let go.




Here we farm potatoes and so we are

at peace. Our town is poor but decent,


our pleasure’s sitting still, in rows

on park benches looking gently at The General,


pigeons on his head. So poor, our ragged little tailor

instead of pure wool, flax or cotton sews motley


into pants, shirts and coats. Nonetheless our streets

stay clean and white, and the grass is cropped by goats.


The opaque dome that serves as sky turns

from day-bright to electric amber to indigo at night.  True,


we have earthquakes – heralded by a condor-like penumbra

overhead – which we call the Great Shakings,


as wind and whistling scatter ash and ember on the pond,

the schoolyard, the burial ground.


But nothing important, thank God, ever falls down.

Soon, stillness again; and we try not to remember.   




the pond we paint around the fish

a shark drifting into view


memory trawled to surface

purified re-interred


forced by flagellants with razors and chains

our wounds dearer to us than yours to you


a medusa head a serpent’s tongue

brother of fear sister of shame


memory like mourning in the presence of a corpse

the corpse refusing burial


buildings pocked by bullets and mortars

refusing to collapse


like the post-apocalyptic tribe sitting on a midden

of glass, plastic, rusted rebars


watching the blank white screen in the hollow below

waiting for the poster gods to come home


and when she fails us we chase after crying




(“…and I – / I took the one less traveled by…” Robert Frost)


And I, I escaped from Vienna to England – the War –

then America where I grew up, became a doctor,

married M, a Catholic, which made my parents cry. Yearning

to cure the world, I went to Egypt, divorced, met C –

an anthropologist – fell in love: this the one true road I’ve traveled.                        



And I, I escaped from Vienna to Palestine, where I grew up,

became a doctor; yearning to heal the world (tikkun olam)

I practiced medicine in the Negev, met C –

an anthropologist studying Bedouin traditions – fell in love,

and joined this, the one road I’ve traveled.



And I, I escaped from Vienna, but neither to America nor Palestine,

grew up in England, became a doctor, married my classmate’s

sister E; but then her career, my career estranged us; so, yearning

to restore my world I turned to public health, met C –

an anthropologist teaching Bedouin traditions –  fell in love,

and joined this, the one road I’ve traveled.



And I, instead of M (a Catholic), I married my classmate’s sister N

whose warm Jewish family nestled me into medicine in the suburbs:

big house, big pool, Cadillac DeVille: I made my parents proud.

Then N grew morose and I starved; yearning to escape that world

one day I just walked away, turned to public health, where I met C –

my Pole Star – to join this, the only road I’ve traveled by.



*Yiddish – the ‘destined one.’




4 - Afterword

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