The Man Who had Luck
By David Bergman
He wasn’t a survivor, just someone who hadn’t died,
and only then because of his stealth and stubbornness.
And luck. How much luck he’d rather not say
but others, far greedier and more scheming,
did not live to see the end of the war.
On his Atlantic crossing, he took
another chance and wed a fellow prisoner
for the simple reason that he knew
he’d never find words to explain
what he had gone through or live
with any woman who hadn’t herself
done whatever it took not to die.
Theirs was a marriage of many silences
in which they shared without a word
the otherwise unspeakable.
They passed the unsaid between them
like a worm-holed leaf of cabbage,
that would save them from the language-hunger
they feared would be their end.
It was not an unhappy union.
She was as discrete and bold as he was,
Luck stayed with them. It turned out Auschwitz
was better than an MBA from Harvard
for learning how to squeeze a profit
out of the least liquid investment or find
opportunity in the most unpromising place.
They grew fat and rich
and, with difficulty, had a daughter
whose hair was spun from gold, whose laughter
tinkled like silver shekels, and whose skin
was as smooth as an unmarked page of the Torah.
She grew up with a daring that delighted him,
a willingness to try almost anything.
She married several husbands
on the off chance one would be a winner.
Several pregnancies ended in miscarriage.
Still, she kept trying. And when he got the call
from Vegas asking if he would cover her debts,
he did not hesitate a moment to wire
everything the mobster asked for.
Nor did he call in his chips when she failed
at first to learn the intricate quadrille
of the twelve-step programs
meant to curb her appetite for chance.
He figured that his daughter had inherited this addiction
from her parents who had both gambled with death
and won or at least fought it to a temporary draw,
for now his wife was too sick to leave her bed.
Gambling was a recessive trait that in
certain environments gave Darwinian advantage.
What had placed him among the fittest,
condemned his daughter to the mentally ill.
But he too knew the lethal joy of beating the odds,
and the absolute indifference to defeat,
how icy nerves can set your skin on fire,
and how no loss is too great as long
as it leaves you standing. He remained
hopeful even on his last visit
to the quiet sanatorium she liked best
for its high-stakes air of intervention.
Her bone-colored face had been reduced
to a nearly blank cube on which her eyes,
once so bright and challenging, stared out—
two small dots that always came up craps.
Maryland poet David Bergman is the author of four books of poetry, the latest Fortunate Light (Midsummer’s Night, 2015). He won the George Elliston Poetry Prize for Cracking the Code (Ohio State). His latest book is a critical study, The Poetry of Disturbance (Cambridge 2016).
“The Man Who Had Luck” was published in the 2017 edition of Delmarva Review, a literary journal discovering outstanding new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. In it’s tenth year, the nonprofit Review is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information and copies, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com.