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Witness

Poetry > Sequences

1. Again

Someone is always leaving,
does not look back, no waving
follows him...

—Johannes Bobrowski
On the Jewish Dealer A.S. trans. Matthew Mead



Places become used to leaving.
It seeps in like weather.
Ice forms, fits footprints.

Memory will not cling
to the plundered interiors
the rage of briar.

Cleared slopes will soften
to gardens. Reconstruction
open new avenues

broad slashes like healed scars.
There will be regret,
how silence made it possible:

corpses ricked like tinder,
stunned-open eyes—
Distanced

we seek a language for outrage.
Spectres wait on stations, mark
how the air gets colder.



2. Transport P Kr 9298

They are growing to hate him too, the old man
whose sobbing troubles their confinement.
The rise and fall of his tears drench them
with apprehension. Rifles butt his useless sleep.

Back there on the track, his son's hand begs
where it lay, bowed like a bowl from which
they'd turned. His pride was foolish, left him then
like air stamped out under the clenched boots.

They have moved on: in the night they felt movement.
"Today we will arrive," someone says, "or tomorrow."
They have few expectations. When it is light, one will peer
through a chink in the door, guess destinations.



3. Camp Commandant

They groomed him for priesthood,
his catholic parents. Imagined him
laying on hands, being easy with death.

He had a steadfast faith: a world
purified, how words would fire—
Fatherland. Duty. Order.

"Direct to cleansing, men over fifty,
women over fortyfive, women with children,
whatever age..." It would be inhuman

he believed, to separate mothers
from their children. He was moved
by plays, cultivated

gardens, friendships. Was adored
by daughters. In his journal, wrote:
"Only our deeds survive us."



4. Gold

I was seven then, the day
Daddy brought home the gold:
three chains, a bracelet, charms
so exquisite I dare not touch.

I keep them still
in the carved box.
The damaged hinge tilts,
locks half-open, yields.

The morning vibrant with his will,
storming the apartment, a gift
for his
Prinzessin, eyes violent
with love, pressing

the gold onto my bare skin,
cold as if it might evaporate.
I keep his photograph
in the clasped heart.

How delicately each link holds.
The woman refused,
would not accept
that goods were requisitioned.

He had to strike her—
Twelve Jews died that day.
I remember, it was so few.



5. Women, Children, A White Road

They have left behind
the little tombs
of clothes, the shoes
that will become eloquent.

Herded in lines, they shiver,
take little running steps,
shamefaced,
with hands over their genitals.

Trust is a prayer, then silence.
A child comforts a doll;
it will not flinch from the dark,
the catch of breath.

They pass into darkness,
leave small gestures we hardly catch:
how a hand trails,
takes with it the last air.

That road is white with their presence,
in the moonlight, glints bone.



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