The Jewish Cemetery in Paris, Texas

Two blocks from our house

on Pine Bluff. Found by

accident. Gravestones

dated in the eighteen

hundreds, not overgrown

with weeds, protected

by city law, maintained

like a park as if

to assuage a conscience.


There are no Jews in Paris now.

Surrounded by Stars of David,

I wondered if I’m Jewish enough

to help create a minyan.


We moved to Paris, where Frank James

retired after Jesse was shot—

Melinda’s mother was Lois James—

thinking we had family there,

but found we had only relatives.


In my office in the Victorian house

we rented on Pine Bluff in Paris,

working on a novel, I wondered,

what did happen to his body?—

and I realized that we

know what we would rather

not know: the Romans threw the

bodies down the gulch where

the temple of Moloch had stood.


I sank, down into the pits

of Auschwitz, among the rotting,

stinking corpses of dead

Jews, looked at the desecrated

body of a pious Jew murdered

by fascists, and

I wept,

despite all my doubts, my

lifelong agnosticism, I wept

for him and asked, Lord,

will we ever get any better?

I guess they could not

bear to tell that truth.


Last December Melinda, looking

for her Cherokee Shellnut forebears,

found that Lois James’ mother’s

mother had been named Salmat.

She looked up that name; I heard her

scream, Oh, my God, I’m Jewish!

It’s from the same root as Shalom.


A rabbi who could see her tree

has said there is no doubt

about it. She felt angry

truth was hidden from

her, but a lady in Chabod

said, Do not judge her

harshly. You don’t know

what she faced—but it is

why there are no Jews in Paris.


Her family came from Estonia;

Cousin Volda has invited us

to visit. Four relatives

died in the Holocaust; two

were murdered by Stalin.


Her family were all Southeners.

There are Salmats buried in Georgia,

yet that Jewish graveyard in Paris,

found as if by accident, might

hide some bones of her ancestors.


"The piece has a small typo: _milsch_ should have been _milch_."

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The Jewish Cemetery in Paris, Texas

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