from The Lorch Family

Magic Trick

Adolf Althoff
is used to riding tigers

so when Gestapo soldiers
come looking for Irene

he plies them with Schnapps
while Irene squeezes

into a passage
tight as a magician’s box –

contracting in size
until she is thin as bone

if they slash a knife through
it will probably miss her.



Mohammed Sahraoui

Though he creaks like a tree
bending under the aajej

Mohammed still backflips
back to his circus years

when raising the alarm
he whispers « go fishing »

as Irene spirits herself away
to the caravan hide-out

while he prowls to and fro
sniffing out Gestapo–

a lynx in a leotard
leaving no trace in the snow.



In the Heyday of the Circus

tigers ripped apart
their rations of raw meat
before it grew icicles,

stallions kicked at their stalls
wired by the moon
not to gallop in circles,

elephant dung froze
rolled off the dustpans
like giant hailstones,

the circus compound
is now a makeshift enclosure
of petting animals

squeezed by sticky-handed
toddlers, scuffing their shoes
in the sawdust

while a rusty roundabout
lurches forward for a deutschmark
and a visitors’ book for Irene

is signed by well-wishers
or by those who wished
they had wished her well.



Sally Michaelson is a recently retired Conference Interpreter living in Brussels. Her poems have been published in Ink Sweat & Tears, Lighthouse, Algebra of Owls, The Bangor Literary Journal, Squawk Back, Amethyst, and The Lake.

Note: I wrote the Lorch Family poems after listening to a lecture by Stav Meishar who created a one- woman show about Irene Danner, a Jewish acrobat.  Irene was protected during World War II by Adolf Althoff, a German circus owner for whom circus was a family of talent and not of race or creed. She was able to hide in plain sight by performing in the Bento Clowns’ act. The Yad Vashem website provided me with material about Irene and her family. The bravery and solidarity shown by  Adolf Althoff and Mohamed Sahraoui who helped hide them from the Nazis inspired me and made me want to tell their story in my poems.  I would like to thank thanks to Bill Greenwell’s Poetry Clinic who saw earlier versions of these poems.

Read the rest of the sequence here: