Tuesday 3 January 2023

Viv Fogel, "Imperfect Beginnings"


Viv Fogel’s poems have been published in various magazines and anthologies since the mid-70s. She has a collection Without Question 2006 and two pamphlets (Witness 2013 and How it is … 2018). Her poems and her work are influenced by having been adopted by refugee Holocaust survivors. London based, once an art teacher, she is involved with community, social housing and education projects, and since the mid-80’s has worked as a psychotherapist. She is a grandmother to three dual-heritage grandchildren. Her website is here.


About Imperfect Beginnings, by Viv Fogel

Imperfect Beginnings lays its poems out to rest on uncertain terrain. Visa paperwork deadlines hang in the air. New-borns, torn too early from their mother’s breast, learn to adapt to harsh guardianship. 

Belonging and exile are mirrored in the stories of having to leave one’s birthmother—or motherland. 

From narrative poems such as ‘My Father Sold Cigarettes To The Nazis,’ Fogel takes us on a journey throughout history, spanning ancestry, wartime, adoption and peacetime, as life settles. Family, work, love and the natural world provide purpose, meaning and a sense of coming ‘home.’

You can read more about Imperfect Beginnings on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From Imperfect Beginnings

My Father Sold Cigarettes To The Nazis 

          for Itzaak Weinreich b.1903 - d.1988

blue-eyed and handsome, he nodded and grinned 
at them through the coffee houses of Berlin, the cakes
and cabaret, a sweet tooth and an eye for women. 

He wrote funny verse, made his friends laugh,
turned horror into humour, played the joker,
protected me from the truth.

My father loved to polish: wooden banisters, 
brass door handles, candlesticks - our boots; 
always polishing. 

Buchenwald was his camp: ‘but Butlins it was not!
I wasn’t meant to hear about the officer’s 
leather belt, his polished boots,

of the baby tossed 
into the air, skull 
cracking beneath the boot.

And once, he upturned the kitchen table, 
mouth foaming, as plates slid 
cracking to the floor. 

He died a year before the Wall came down,
the year my baby was born.
I sat by his bed and fed him

as once he fed me. I stroked his baby head, 
made him smile at my jokes,
as his watery eyes were fading. 

I traced his burnt-scarred arm, tapped 
my fingers along numbers the same blue-grey 
as his veins, longing to unlock his story. 

He held my baby in his arms, just once, 
a little awkward, a little shy, 
a big man   grown small.

Mr Rockwell

There are no photos but I imagine you sucking on a cigar,
your stubby nails manicured, a gold diamond ring maybe.

I found the faded list of things you paid for: bonnet and bootees,
a knitted coat, a blanket for the cot, formula milk, adoption fees.

My bewildered mother was made to leave, her breasts full
and aching, and a new home was found for me.

They told me you were fat—a wandering 
hand that patted, groped and squeezed—

but you were their boss and the girls were malleable.
No expectations you told them so nothing lost! 

Your accent thick as the lies you told your wife.
Years later I track you down, call your home. 

A curt voice informs me that you’re dead. 
Click—the contact is cut.  But Father,  

I need your eyes, your smell, your look—
to see how akin the echo 

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