The only difference between a madman
and myself is that I am not mad.
Four or five times a day, steamy baths fog away
her past until the skin puckers, then heavy towels
unburden her. She frees her hair, shakes it until
it caresses her back and thighs: she has not cut
it since liberation, will not allow scissors
in the house. Her husband doesn’t complain any
longer. Early each morning, she stretches clean starched
sheets tautly over the sturdy mattress, then crawls
between them when trains clank the tracks half a mile from
the house. She still insists on accompanying
the children to school, only lately has she
allowed them to return on their own. They keep their
backpacks in their lockers, remind each other to
discard their apple cores before arriving home
so she can’t retrieve them and hide them under her
pillow. She wears long sleeves even in summer. The
children invent elaborate stories about the
blue-black numbers scratched on her left forearm. She still
flinches at the hint of a uniform, and still
imagines an extra point on the gold star on
the village Christmas tree, stares until her husband
liberates her. The children don’t bring any of
their friends home. She goes to bed early each night, and
her husband guards her anxious dozing, smoothing hair
from her face. In the darkness, those voices shout zu
Fünf while a train without brakes plunges into deep
tunnels winding ever deeper into the earth.
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Where Lightning Strikes: Poems on the Holocaust
© 1980-1986, 2000-2007, 2013 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman.
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