Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 118 in June, 2009.
Three cars of Gypsies were attached
to a train of Jews.
It was mid-January and they had no way
to make a fire in the over-crowded car.
A father woke the second morning
to the parading drone of the wheels
and to blood-congealing air.
He felt for his boy's face—
stone beneath his fingers.
Black owls raked and razored his brain.
At Warsaw they were ousted.
He refused to leave his boy behind
but a soldier put a pistol to his head—
icy "o"—and shouted at him to exit the train
or stay with his son forever.
He wished later he'd let him blow his life
against the car’s boards.
But something broke in him—
guitar strings snapping.
He kissed his boy and walked to the open door.
Their lives of endless journeying ended abruptly
at the camp.
The smell’s insult to the nose was inescapable.
His wife and daughter were yanked into another line.
They screamed and he fought—until a guard
raised his rifle and ordered him to stop.
As he was hurried away, real snow began to fall
with the other.
Over the next months, ravenous crows
pecked at them with flinty beaks.
They pecked at muscles, at hearts and brains.
At night the Gypsies dreamed of black feathers.
When the flesh was gone, they gassed the bones.
The crematory's white unconsecrating flames
ate what the crows had not—
all but the little girl.
The voices of the dead were black bells
sounding in her ears—
in the hospital, in the DP camp,
on the crowded ship, and even
as far away as New Jersey.
She never spoke of what they said,
the dead—not to her adoptive parents,
not to her friends, her husband,
or her own children.
The words of the dead tolled
with a hard iron clarity in her ears.
They spoke of lives lived outside of life.
What the dead said to her belonged,
and would always belong,
only within her first family.
No one here, in this fabulous, safe new world
would ever understand,
could ever understand,
that lost and secret tongue.