The children

by Elana Lev Friedland

Selected as the winner of the 2020 Blurred Genre Contest by James Hannaham.

Elana Lev Friedland’s “The children” steadfastly
resists categorization—it is a poem, short story,
speech, spell, lament, outcry, and probably a
couple of other things. Friedland invokes,
in incantatory, impassioned lines not unlike
prayer, the most desperate moments of
parenthood and of life, but specifically of
motherhood—the anguish that results when
heartless outside forces succeed in breaking
the bond between mother and child.

Initially these lines seem to address the
horrors of the Holocaust, but it is not a stretch
to say that they also evoke current events.
Take your pick: separation of families at the
US border, Rohingya relocation in Myanmar,
the war in Syria. And yet Friedland’s work
also reaches backward in time and world
history to show us the personal heartbreak
that has arisen out of conflict between
societies since civilization began. Somehow
Friedland accomplishes all this without
moralizing, but with compassion, truth, and
even humor.

– James Hannaham

Elana Lev Friedland is a writer, musician, and performance artist. Originally from Skokie, IL, they currently live. Their work has appeared in Cartridge Lit, Anomaly, Salt Hill, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. Find them online at www.elanalevfriedland.com.

The children

by Elana Lev Friedland

The children the children the mothers wore them like purses like scarves draped over mothers the

children

All hail the mothers the mothers for they are doing the Lord’s work doing their work in the name

of the Lord yes the Lord

See the mothers God bless the mothers see how they wear their children and my what a

fashionable look it is how the mothers

The mothers oh children we should all be mothers my children my God let us all be mothers all

be mothers wearing children bearing children

A mother a mother

This child held in a holster see the children

clinging to belt loops the children holstered in

plastic the children the children please won’t somebody think of the children

please won’t anybody think of the children

The mothers bear their children proudly how they shine in the light of the Lord while they beat

their children the mothers the mothers beam at their children the beams of light that are their

children beating at chests at breasts beaming the children the children

when the men came for the children                                        the mothers

How the mothers screaming do not take my children our children oh how our children our

children

The mothers bereft of their guns their shields their weapons their children

How the mothers howled

when the bad men came to take the children

and put them in trains

the children

The children were put into train-cars into boxcars stacked like boxes the children couldn’t

breathe because of the children on top of the children

the children urinating defecating into corners onto children

the children like guns emptying into bodies the children

Whatever were the mothers to do without their children?

While their children in the dark of the boxcars gasping between darkened planks the children

Could the mothers run fast enough down the tracks after their children?

What were the mothers without their children?

The bad men came for the mothers’ guns their children the mad men took away the mothers’

guns how could the women claim they had had children?

Down the children go past the towns the children on wheels in boxes upon boxes of children past

towns that smell but do not see the children shitting the children shitting upon the children the

children with no place else to go but over or under the children

The mothers could not fight back without their guns

The mothers could not fight back without their children

The mothers searched for a stockpile of children

The mothers prayed for a surprise parade of children

The mothers run the mothers run the mothers run

Past the towns and after the boxcars the mothers run the mothers run for want of their children

their guns their children their guns their children the mothers run the mothers run

and as they approach the gates that stand before the gates that stand before a giant smokestack

past piles of tiny shoes past cobbled mountains the mothers run until stopped suddenly met by

the bad men

and how the mad men smile and welcome the mothers the mothers

the men tell the mothers they will soon meet they will soon be again with their children oh how

their guns their children

and so the bad men led the mothers to the rooms led the mothers past the mounds of miniscule

shoes the mothers were led

by the bad men to the room covered in tile where they are told they must wait to see their

children before they can see their kids the mothers must be cleansed they must be ready to see

their children

their belongings will be collected and waiting at the end where they will meet their children their

sweet sweet offspring spring-loaded children their mothers at the end

and how they miss them

the children miss their mothers

the mothers miss their children

the bad men said the bad men said the bad men said

but maybe after all they weren’t so bad. if the children were clean if the children were happy

were being fed

the mothers had been running for so long and they were so tired and did they not want to wash

and rest

the men remind them of the world they have left

the earth is burning

the oceans are oil and are burning

the sky is clogged and is burning

rest now, mothers. soon, mothers you can rest. but first you must meet you must see your guns

your children.

the mothers strip and allow their belongings to be collected. their minds are not with their bodies

but only on their children their children the women do not mind the men watching their bodies

they do not care their thoughts are pure they are thinking only of the children of saving the

children they are thinking of the children aren’t they all thinking of the children?

the mothers would like us all to know they have only and ever been thinking of their children

they are thinking of their guns their weapons their children as the men recede and the doors close

and fasten

soon they will be clean and they will be reunited with their guns their kids their children

the mothers are tired and only thinking of the future of their children their children

the mothers do not hear the clicking over the sound in their minds their memories of the children

the children laughing as the clicking the clicking the hissing the hissing the hissing and the fire

the fire the fire that is

the mothers are burning

the mothers the ashes are burning

the mothers the ashes the children the guns that were burned that live in the lining of the caulk of

the tiles of the showers that are not showers  are burning are burning are burning burning burning

how the world burns and with it every child is burning all the children