Der Gilgul (The Possessed)

By Jerome Rothenberg b. 1931 Jerome Rothenberg

he picks a coin up
from the ground

it burns his hand
like ashes it is red

& marks him as it marks
the others      hidden

he is hidden in the forest
in a world of nails

his dibbik fills him


Each night another one would hang himself. Airless boxcars.
Kaddish. "What will they do with us?" The brown & black
spots on their bellies. So many clothes. The field was littered.
Ten thousand corpses in one place. Arranged in layers. I am
moving down the field from right to left—reversing myself at
every step. The ground approaches. Money. And still his great-
est fear was that he would lose his shoes.


earth, growing fat with
the slime of corpses      green & pink

that ooze like treacle, turn
into a kind of tallow

that are black
at evening       that absorb

all light

"Der Gilgul (The Possessed)" By Jerome Rothenberg, from Khurbn and Other Poems, copyright © 1989 by Jerome Rothenberg. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Source: Khurbn and Other Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1989)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Jerome Rothenberg b. 1931


Subjects War & Conflict, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics


Jerome Rothenberg's publishing career began in the late 1950s as a translator of German poetry, first for Hudson Review and then for City Lights Books. Founding Hawk's Well Press in 1959, Rothenberg used it as a venue to publish collections by some of the up-and-coming poets of the era, including Diane Wakoski and Robert Kelly. He also self-published his first book of poems, White Sun Black Sun, under the Hawk's Well imprint. . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics


Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.