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.”
Tell me more about death, I said put it into words, that’s your specialty so open your mouth from amid your black jungle of a beard now white, I want a noise, a howl. Why the hell do I hear only silence, I know it’s the sound of one hand clapping, but I demand more than a mere koan Corso would at least bathe me in gasoline but you, who wrote to be immortal so why, now, only old words? So I can complete the circle? But they hit the floor like so may peanut shells washed by the spilt beer. Come on, say something even a simple kaddish for your silence is killing me.
Spring has arrived, however begrudgingly, and the young woman pushes the older woman’s wheelchair along the paths of the great park. Neither speaks, but each knows this could be the last time they do this. That shared knowledge paints each flower in a more vibrant hue, each fallen petal is quickly but individually mourned for, its beauty draining back into the soil. The older woman struggles hard to fully capture each view for she knows that it is possible that it will have to last her an eternity.
(*Be forewarned, this is a shift from the usual post. On December 14, 1992 there was a shooting on the campus of Simon’s Rock College of Bard. A professor and student died, four others (my son included) were seriously wounded. Twenty years to the day later, in Connecticut 26 people died in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Since then there have been so many, many other mass shootings in our country. This is in honor of all the victims, alive and departed.)
— In memory of Galen Gibson and Nacunan Saez, victims of a greater insanity, December 14, 1992
It was a night much like this but for a quarter century’s slow elapse. It was a place much like this resting beneath freshly fallen snow. The solution is quite simple He wrote, we need only round them up, ship them to the desert. If AIDS doesn’t take them in ten years, we can finish the job then.
It was a night much like this His “then” has come but there is no job left for Him to finish He offered them up as a sacrifice to His god Tonight they have no body to offer to our tongues, no blood for our lips. We have only settled ground of barren altars outside Buenos Aires, in a snow shrouded Gloucester. We have no icons through which to channel our prayer save the flattened lead slugs the earth rejects.
It was a night much like this but Galen’s blood no longer stains the snow piled along side the library door, there are no shards of windshield, bits of skull where Nacuñan looked momentarily into His eyes. There is no blood tonight on the stairs to my son’s apartment nor on the dormitory stairs he limped that night to escape what he could not see his legs rejecting him.
It was a night much like this one but the walls are bare there are no gurneys pressed against the wall, gurneys I needed to believe, convinced myself, were starched sheet covered supplies.
The sitting of Shiva is a tribal right performed with Kaddish and coffeecake. The mourning is harder for the adult child, for the now severed bond grows with time and not distance, and there comes a point where the loss invokes your mortality. Tonight we all speak of the departed off on a journey we never expect to take.
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.