header

Poetry

A VISIT

there are no hiways in Poland

but many flat places to build them.

there are fields, roadside shrines

bannered in bright ribbons

to honor a dead pope; there are churches

many churches and even more; also,

stone monuments commemorating

heroic, if inevitably tragic, evacuations.

there is one turtle saying “go slowly”

and one saurian symbolic of said times

in the middle of each field, onetwothreefourfivesix

are hooks to hang ropes to hang people

who do not need to be hung out to dry. Next to

the crematorium, one two three four five

is a bathroom for the crematorium master

so that he can come clean from the blood of ashes

but next door under the dome and besides the trenches

is an enormous mounting of ashes which will never fly,

or come clean.

over the outer wall is a regular graveyard –

if such dead flat places are ever really regular –

crosses, flowers, tears, dates, entrance gates

that become exit gates.

crows swirling, squawking, screaming squads

dark dashes against the grey, the cold, the rain

and it is only October: God! How did they survive

the January bitters or the February frights?

…but some escaped

five hundred, some say: one, two, three,

no, stop counting –

look at the shoes, slippers, boots, high heels, galoshes

there is an entire barrackful

count each one and imagine

the whole soul which stepped thru.

twenty-five years on, the communist government

gave them all the Grunewald Cross, First Class

saying, they were martyrs for humanity, posthumously,

struggling against…

but over the dome, over the ashes, over the backdrop

the artist has written

the dead say: “may our fate be a warning”; or is it a lesson?

it is not the dead who speak; they are poor, grey, unspeaking

but the artist, who tries to hear their silence.

there are 17 watchtowers all empty,

still, made of wood, of windows, of watching.

it is still cold, or do I mean colder still?

the toilets are closed and I go to pee

against the far fence. Why did Himmler

choose here to build it so far from the train lines?

And why is the gas chamber

(you may choose from Cyclon B or Carbon Monoxide)

so far from the crematorium?

“It is forbidden to light candles.”

“During November–March,

visits must in advance be arranged.”

“The shrine (artistic) in Barrack No. 47 may be opened by request.”

I have many requests, but I do not dare

The shock? The shock is the city.

it is not close to the city, it is in the city

part of the city, the special neighbour with its

one white house of stone and many of wood.

even now I see the primitive

firefighting equipment, red

on the side of each barrack structure:

ladder, flapper, hooker

like a surreal refugee from the Easter procession

there was plenty of marching here

processions, processing – oh, the paperwork!

Did you know that Buddhists were here sent

and Muslims, too?

Numbers went up only to 20,000

and were restarted. If 235,000 died,

how many times were the numbers used?

we return to the car

and drive away

there are no hiways in Poland

But all roads lead here