When I die, my friend Larry said one morning in the third inning of a double header of stoop ball, I want to be burned, not that I intend it to happen any time soon, but when it does. They burned my grandfather I think it was Dachau, but unlike him, I want to kick some ass before it happens. Just let them call me Jew boy I’d like to hear the sound of their balls imploding up into their bladder. They burned my grandmother too, years later, until all that was left was the cancer eating her stomach, but I want to be burned in an oven set up properly for the job, my ashes cast into the wind or maybe in the infield of Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium if Luke Easter is still playing first base for the Bisons. It was only two days later that Larry tripped on the curb outside the variety store on the way home from school and later that day they took his kidney and laid it, all bloody within, on the steel tray. When he came home his mother said he had to be careful when you have only one kidney you can’t fool around and you certainly want to avoid the strain that comes from kicking any ass.
First Appeared in Afterthoughts (Canada), Vol. 2, No. 4, Autumn, 1995.
When they asked him what did you do during the war he said “I just stood guard.” When they asked him where he said “A station, just a station, like most others, I just stood guard.” When they asked him did you see the trains carrying the bodies crammed into cattle cars he said “I saw many trains, it was just a station, but mostly I looked at the sky, wishing for the sun, but mostly it was gray and there was smoke from the chimneys.” When they asked him why did you wear the lightening bolts he said “I was a ski instructor but I broke my leg so I stood at the station, just a station like most others.” When they asked him did he know of the ovens he said “They made bread which we ate each night when there were no potatoes.” When they asked him about the Jews he said “I knew no Jews; there were none in the town where I stood guard at a station, just a station like most others.” When they asked him what he did after the war he said “I prayed, just prayed for my sins, sins like those of so many others.”
“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”-Shelley
I write because words must be said words must be said because they eat at my tongue they eat at my tongue because they recall the flames of the ovens they recall the flames of the ovens because they were forced to shower they were forced to shower because they were Jews they were Jews because they embraced Torah they embraced Torah because they walked through the desert they walked through the desert because they followed the trail of manna they followed the trail of manna because it led to freedom it led to freedom because I saw it in a dream I saw it in a dream because a voice whispered it to me a voice whispered it to me because I write
Years later on, having walked calmly away from my former faith, I am left still pondering where you find the words to describe, to teach the unspeakable, and how you use them to reach children who have no right to know the unspeakable, but who must, lest they later speak it. It was a generation ago for me, two for them, three now for my own grandchildren but the losses they know are staggering: Las Vegas, 9/11, Manchester, Sandy Hook, and on and on and on and on and how do you help them grasp the number six million, 10 million, when they have but ten fingers, shielding their eyes from the horror.
He stands transfixed on the bridge, arms outstretched, staring at the river always flowing slowly by below. He wears a garland of gold, an inscription in Hebrew, the holiest of holies, mocking those who hold him a man. Did he peer out of the corner of his eyes as they marched them across the bridge to the trains to the camps from which they would never return, never have headstones in small, ghetto cemeteries, would be merely names on a wall of remembrance? What did he want to say, what would they not hear, for surely he must have known, in the way a son knows so much more than a father imagines. They are gone, he remains, forced to be ever silent, and the river flows under the bridge beneath his ever constant, mournful gaze.