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.