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"Mountainside" is a poem written to memorialize the journey one specific man took that lead up to the voyage he and 981 other people took, on the ship named "Henry Gibbins," as depicted in Ruth's poem "Into the Light: Safe Haven, l944."


by Ruth Sabath Rosenthal

Always, there would be darkness hovering through-
out the bushes and trees, massive sky and earthen ground
he tiptoed upon in shoeless stealth, machine gun slung

over one shoulder and, strapped across the other,
a leather pouch holding coded messages he delivered
encampment to encampment, their locations razor-sharp

in his 11 year old brain, in a body tall enough to be
mistaken for older. Tall enough to be made a Partisan—
a courier, and down the road, likely qualifying as

a full-blown saboteur targeting Germans and the war
machinery they were transporting through Yugoslavia's
Mosor mountain villages.

(German soldiers, who, if they'd caught him, a Jew,
& partisan, to boot, would surely have beaten him
to death extracting every bit of information they could.)

Upon each return to his farmhouse refuge, the
communications he'd been charged with having been
delivered hours before and miles away,

the fear he'd braved began melting away. And,
in the moments it took him to hang up his courier bag
and machine gun, he felt ready for the evening meal

of pit-roasted mutton and stone-ground bread
washed down with goat's milk. Then, a foot soak
(weekly, a full-body scrub), followed by deep sleep,

in a basement below a trap door—a peasant woman's
woven blankets softening the wooden floor boards
and his heart. And when that heart rejoiced with freedom

in '45, at 13 years old, is truly when he understood why
he detested the taste of lamb, no matter how gourmet
the preparation offered the boy he once was—

the boy who'd put meat back on his bones in Brooklyn,
and the gastronome he's become—a content 82 year old
grateful for his hero Tito and the fact that he's managed

to keep his Hitler-torn past safely locked away
in a tight-lipped box, he rarely chooses to open.

© 2014 by Ruth Sabath Rosenthal. All Rights Reserved.


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