The Letters / Susan Sklan


The Letters

poems by

Susan Sklan

40 pages, $12 (+ shipping)

Release Date: late February 21, 2023

An Advance Sale Discount price for this title has expired. Those who prefer to pay by check the price is $16/book (which includes shipping) and should be sent to: Main Street Rag, PO BOX 690100, Charlotte, NC 28227-7001. 


Susan Sklan is a social worker and published poet, an Australian now living in the Boston area. Her poems have appeared in Folio, Gulf Stream, Kalliope, Lilith, Midstream, Nixes Mate, Pleiades, Poetica Magazine, Polis, Slipstream, Sojourner, Soul-Lit, The Centennial Review, The Main Street Rag, The Muddy River Poetry Review, other journals and anthologies. “On passing an old lover’s address” was chosen by the Cambridge MA, Sidewalk Poetry Program, 2018, and installed on a city sidewalk. A group of eight poems were awarded an Honorable Mention for the Samuel Washington Allen Prize, New England Poetry Club contest, 2021.

The Letters on which these poems are based were found in the bottom of Susan Sklan’s father’s suitcase written by his doomed mother in Warsaw to her son, a refugee in England. Retelling her father’s journey and questioning her grandmother who was murdered by the Nazis, Ms. Sklan reveals more of the Holocaust, the most horrific period of human history. To understand the depth of inhumanity, everyone must read these poems.  ~Zvi A. Sesling, author of The Lynching of Leo Frank


Susan Sklan’s chapbook is a meditation on letters; it is letters that are poems, poems that are letters. It is memories projected into the future, and a present struggling to find itself in its past. From the opening poem, describing a Holocaust-era request “for food parcels/or just one shoe,” to the final letter poem, dated 2016, “this morning I walked my grandchildren to school/Police were guarding the front entrance,” this collection is a correspondence from ourselves to ourselves. ~Wayne-Daniel Berard, author of Art of Enlightenment and founding co-editor of Soul-Lit, a journal of spiritual poetry.


Many people consider the Holocaust an impossible topic to write about. It’s just too overwhelming. Too painful. Yet we know we mustn’t forget what happened. And so with humility and empathetic understatement, Susan Sklan has produced a series of very moving, very personal poems about what actually happened to her family that will be impossible to forget. I know I won’t forget them. Or want to. ~Lloyd Schwartz, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, author of Who’s on First? New and Selected Poems


The knock on the door

Leipzig, October 28,1938


At daybreak there was
a knock on the door.
Did it wake you
or were you already waiting?
How did you decide what to take
and what to leave behind?
We still have two things
that you packed that morning
– my father’s prayer shawl
and its blue velvet bag
with his name embroidered
in yellow silk.
Did you bury the candlesticks
in the courtyard?
Or was there no time?
Maybe I have confused the story.
I do know that you left the rooms
with the casement windows
and walked with your bags
to the station.
How did you decide what to take
and what to leave behind?



The letter’s journey


The letter from the ghetto is pinched through a crack in the wall
The letter is pulled free by a mail bird
The letter was carried in an army truck that broke down
Gun shots in the distance.

The letter was carried by a crow in his beak
The letter was escorted over the mountains, through empty fields
The letter sailed in the belly of a ship bathed in a fire ocean
Gun shots in the distance.

The letter was stamped three times and tossed into a post van
The driver deciphered the code and delivered the letter
to my dearest most loved child
Gun shots.



Four Postcards to Amsterdam

Warsaw Ghetto, 1941-1942


My sincerest thanks for the promised package.
The jar of marmalade
arrived and remained intact.
The jacket will have much usage.
How can I ever thank you?
Please write soon.

We are sorry to bother you
but you are the only person
whom we are able to reach.
If you can, please send us money
or your worn clothes.
They can be torn.

We are most grateful and thank you.
The small package with the wonderful shirt
arrived. All your help has been of most value.
The temperature is well below freezing.
Our despair grows from hour to hour.
Our room has no heating.

Please forgive me this burden,
but we have no way to earn anything.
I am emaciated to the bone.
We must stay alive for our daughter.
Our last strength has flown.
Everyday, more savage slaughter.

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