By Richard Michelson
What shall I ask of this sixteen-year-old girl,
born in the final years of the twentieth century,
who has tattooed her great-grandfather’s camp number
onto her forearm? No, she is not my neighbor,
or grand niece, but only one more of too many
applicants hoping to beef up their college résumé.
Beauty, she explains, is her calling, why
she was put on this earth. And at sixty I try
to remember my teenage self, averting my eyes
in the temple, or around the dinner table. Did art
ever save anybody? I want to argue, even one
of those children, younger than you, who drew
such dazzling yet delicate butterflies at Terezin
while their interned teachers extolled creativity?
Still, we make art everywhere, anonymous
or signed, and wonder why else our own fragile lives
are worth living? And so I am looking beyond her
at red flowers and blue sailboats, and even the beautiful
ugliness of some well-crafted canvases speaking about,
let’s suppose, the meaning of mass slaughter, or
a personal death in the artist’s family that leaves us
well-satisfied and momentarily happy to be alive.
Richard Michelson is the author of more than 20 books for children and adults and has received a Sydney Taylor Gold and Silver Medal from the Association of Jewish Librarians. He is curator of exhibitions at The National Yiddish Book Center, owner of R. Michelson Galleries and the current Poet Laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts.