Two Poems by Margaret Dornaus

The Heart is Not a Stone

             after Danusha Laméris

You cannot hold it in your hands,
or kick it to one side to clear your path.
Or toss it in the air to see how far
it travels . . . skipping as it does
across still water. It is neither this
nor that, but by its nature soft
though not without sharp
edges. It is a dozen songbirds
singing as the light returns, a child
at play, a lover calling out
your name: a reminder there is
no love without the loss. No poetry.
Perhaps then it’s enough to speak
of smaller things—a pocket,
say, a stone—until you also find
your heart. Holding on. Letting
go. Speaking before daring
to be spoken for.


But You Don’t Die from It

             “The yellow star? Oh, what of it? You don’t die from it.”
                         —from Night, Chapter One, by Elie Wiesel

At Buchenwald, Liliane takes two stones from her pocket.
Small specimens collected from a desecrated cemetery in Potsdam.

She places one stone on a cairn overlooking Buchenwald’s
courtyard, where tourists are snapping pictures off

their bucket list: the frozen watchtower clock displaying
the time of liberation; the arched entryway gates

proclaiming Arbeit Macht Frei without a shred
of irony; the lightning-struck oak where Goethe sat

on this hillside above Weimar’s cobblestoned ode
to life and literature and music. A month ago

when Liliane and I met in a New York restaurant
that served schnitzel, she asked if I was Jewish.

It’s your name, she said, explaining she’d studied
surnames given Jews by their oppressors.

I told her that my name had haunted me since
childhood. How my classmates taunted

me with nicknames: dormouse; doormat; doornail,
as in dead as . . . How at night I’d wished

for a name that sounded more American, less
German. It’s just a name, I said that day

Liliane and I became friends. Long before
she placed her second stone in my left hand.


Margaret Dornaus holds an MFA in the translation of poetry from the University of Arkansas. A semifinalist in Naugatuck River Review’s 13th annual Narrative Poetry Contest, she had the privilege of editing and publishing a pandemic-themed anthology—behind the mask: haiku in the time of Covid-19—through her small literary press Singing Moon in 2020. Her first book of poetry, Prayer for the Dead: Collected Haibun & Tanka Prose, won a 2017 Merit Book Award from the Haiku Society of America. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in I-70 Review, MacQueen’s, Minyan Magazine, MockingHeart Review, Red Earth Review, Silver Birch Press, and The Ekphrastic Review.

10 thoughts on “Two Poems by Margaret Dornaus

  1. I think both poems are wonderful, and i especially like the way all the elements of the second poem are woven together, Buchenwald and New York, schnitzel and surnames, names and nicknames, Liliane’s stone and your stone.

  2. Wonderful to see your skill at writing lyrical poetry as well as your excellence with Japanese forms. I’m writing free verse almost exclusively now.

    1. Thank you so much, Maggie. If not for haibun and tanka, I would not have had the courage to write longer forms of poetry. I’ve always admired your haibun and tanka prose. I look forward to reading your free verse poems as well.

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