May Days

posted in: Aging, Fiction, Poetry | 0

What happens when we’re at war with ourselves and others, with works by Diana Anhalt and Arthur Rivkin.
6 minutes


On this episode, pieces related to two May days that celebrate two military victories.  

May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over France in 1862. Today, it’s more of an American holiday than a Mexican holiday. 

Diana Anhalt lived in Mexico for almost 60 years. In 2010 when she moved back to the United States, she said, “my poetry dug in its heels, refused to budge, and all I could write about was Mexico.” Here’s her poem “Mexico,” 

mother of lopsided logic, defensive driving, the shrug, arrived on my doorstep  
when I was eight and entered, trumpets blasting, rolling her R’s. 
She flashed a finger, danced a zapateo down my spine.  

She had clouds in her pocket, mint on her breath, thunder in her bosom  
and a tongue to fold around words like buitzilopochtli. For me, 
she dressed in fuchsia, wore jacarandas in her hair. Let me  

wrap you in my silk-fringed rebozo, she crooned. You will be mine.  
She blew on the dice, tossed them once and taught me to jaywalk  
through life under the eye of her blood-giddy sun.  

So I shrugged off the Bronx like yesterday’s vows, forgot the words  
to Girl Scout songs, fear of dark places under the El, 
but kept my ice skates, my accent, the scars on my knees.  

She filled my ears with marimbas and gossip, sang me her tunes  
until I called her my own: Let me home in the marrow of your bones,  
porque nunca hay retorno.   

Diana Anhalt’s poem “Mexico,” from her book Because There Is No Return

And this week marks another military victory. May 8 is V.E. Day; it’s the anniversary of the day in 1945 that the German army officially surrendered to Allied Forces, marking the end of WWII, at least the end of the European part of the war; the war with Japan ended that August. To commemorate V.E. Day, excerpts from a story by Arthur Rifkin, “Adolf and the Devil.” 

. . . One Tuesday evening, I was bending elbows with Mike, a real old timer. He was in World War II. I remembered a long time ago, he told me he was with General Patton’s tank corp. fighting across Germany.  

I was drinking Dundee’s Honey Flavored Beer – my favorite brew. As usual, Mike was nursing a boilermaker. He could handle that heavy stuff. He tore into that juice and never looked loaded. I never saw him drunk. He got a little ruddy in the cheeks and the gibbous nose gave him a clownish quality. Red spider webs wove across his clean-shaven face and the high forehead and close-cropped brown hair made him look studious . . .

Anyway, we were talking about armies and who was a better commander – Eisenhower or Montgomery – when “Victory at Sea,” the documentary about WWII came on the TV, which was hanging over the bar. This particular segment showed American troops busting into a concentration camp in Germany and freeing the prisoners. They were wearing tattered black and white striped uniforms. Man, they were in real bad shape – just skin and bones – and bodies stacked like pallets beside a building a hundred yards long.  

Mike looked at me and said, “I was there.” 

“What! You’re telling me you were in one of those concentration camps?” 

“Yeah. I was with the first group in ‘45. I was attached to the 6th Army. We went in and freed those poor guys. Man, that place stunk like a closed outhouse. Dirt and crap were all over the mangy place. Half those guys were walking dead. Nothing but hobbling skeletons with big bulging eyes. Most of them could barely crawl. My sergeant told me he heard the Germans ordered the killings.”  

“So, you were there. You saw this evil stuff first hand. You were fighting Nazis and wound up in a concentration camp. Goddamn, Mike, you saw some real crazy stuff.”  

Mike ordered another boilermaker. He downed the shot of whiskey, washed it with the beer chaser and said, “That Hitler was some piece of turd.”  

I gave Mike a long, hard look and asked him, “In the grand scheme of things, where do you put Hitler – above the Devil or below the Devil?” . . .

Excerpts from “Adolf and the Devil” by Arthur Rifkin from Passager’s Winter 2021 issue. Arthur said that the story was based on his interest in history and his experience listening in on conversations many years ago when he was a bartender. 

To find out whether Mike put Hitler above or below the Devil, you can buy Passager’s Winter 2021 issue. You can also buy Diana Anhalt’s book, subscribe to, learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, and lots more. Go to  

 For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.