Sunday, 29 May 2022

Terrifying in its Grief

by Laura Ann Reed

For more than a year I’ve been haunted
by a photograph I keep in a blue folder
labeled Holocaust. From time to time
I open the folder and stare at the faces
in this group of Jews forced to meet
the camera’s eye.

In the foreground a child, no more
than four or five, crouches—
head tilted to one side. She’s too young
to know she won’t live until night,
when the moon will hang in a clouded sky.
Too young to know the meaning
of the name, Auschwitz.

She huddles in her winter coat. One hand
grips a shoe, as if to keep her balance.
The other holds a piece of paper. Is it a document
she’s been told not to lose? Her birth certificate?
Or could it be a drawing of her cat, made
before the soldiers came?

She doesn’t know the world will throw her
down a well, doesn’t know she’ll sink
down and further down, clutching at stones
in unrelenting walls, crying out
for her mother’s hand—
Doesn’t know her mother
will be far away.

Little girl who left behind a name I never knew,
you step forward from the photograph
addressing me, asking me to sing
of how your life was taken. Now I sing
after a year of hesitation—afraid
my voice wouldn’t carry well.

I sing because to remain silent
is to make triumphant the evil that swallowed you,
is to listen forevermore to the unending message
that shapes itself from such silence.
And even singing of darkness is singing,
a bell rung.

I ring this bell in your name
that I don’t know. In your memory.
Because I who do not know you,
remember you. I remember
how the world enshrouded you in shadow—
this world, terrifying in its violence.
Terrifying in its grief.

* * * * *

Photo credit: Bernhardt Walter, Jewish Women and Children from Subcarpathian Russia Colored by Dana R. Keller, photograph (in the public domain) from the US Memorial Holocaust Museum.

Laura Ann Reed received a dual BA in French/Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, and subsequently completed Master’s Degree Programs in the Performing Arts and Psychology. She was a dancer in the San Francisco Bay Area prior to assuming the role of Leadership Development Trainer at the San Francisco headquarters of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She and her husband now reside in western Washington. Her work has been anthologized in How To Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, and has appeared or is forthcoming in MacQueen’s Quinterly, The Ekphrastic Review, and Willawaw, among other journals.   

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