the march of the living
a year ago I was walking through the death camps in poland
accompanied by 20-something sixteen-year-olds, three adults,
and one 86-year-old woman
who had too many burdens to bear.
she stood as tall as she could at 5 feet even
despite all efforts to compress her to the size of an ant
and stomp on her, or burn her away, or poison her to death;
still, she walked like a soldier, chin up and chest out
in perpetual defiance of the world that could have been
and very nearly was.
together she and I walked the three kilometers between
auschwitz and birkenau, a march which needs no exposition
and as we passed through the huge arch of the train station, arm in arm,
she pointed me towards the rubble that were once crematoria,
looked and me and said, “this is where I would have died.”
I shivered as I felt her unspoken you too hanging heavy in the air
against the haunting chorus of the mourner’s kaddish,
the names of camps and lost lovers slipped between its words
in reminder of what was and nearly could have been.
there is still no wildlife at auschwitz-birkenau
but I am glad that there are flowers in the springtime
and kind old women to pick them for.