1 -- It is not my fault
It is not my fault.
I am not like my momma or poppa who wanted nothing to stay in the shtetl, seeing no one, speaking to no one other than our own.
They wanted no more than what they had, to go to temple, to recite and to go home again, needing no other path but the one our ancestors paved for them between birth and god.
I like being in the world, to walk down a busy street filled with children and traffic, to wave and smile at people I know and have them wave and smile back at me.
I like to think I am part of something larger than my religion, mean something to the place where I grew up and live, and have the respect of Goyim and Gentile.
And for a long time I thought I did.
I am a proud man.
These fingers learned long ago how to work fabric in ways even poppa could not.
I can make a suit with my eyes closed, hem a gown, tuck a cuff or sew a stitch as quickly as anybody.
I do fine work.
Even the worst of THEM say that.
Then all this changed.
I walk down the street one day and people insult me, felling me I am diseased or worse. They make me wear a badge because I have become too much like them and they need for me to stand out so they can hate me.
It is not my fault.
I try to fit in but they wonít let me.
I try to do good work, but a good man,
yet this is not enough.
They do not want me or anyone that is different around them.
But I am not different Ė really, and they hate me more for wanting what they want, and I donít know why.
2- Glass like jewels
I get down my knees to pick up the pieces of glass and poppa yells at me, telling me not to touch them, not because I might cut myself, but for some other reason I do not understand.
People stare at us and point, and poppa cries out loud when he sees I wear no yellow badge.
ďWhat is wrong with you?Ē he yells. ďDonít you know you clan never leave the house without your badge?Ē
I tell him the fire at it Ė just as it ate our house when the men with the torches came, when they smashed the glass and told us we are not welcome here any more Ė some of them people poppa knows from when he cut their hair or shined their shoes, men who used to admire him, and pay him for his work.
Poppa doesnít know what to say when I tell him that, all of us looking at the ruins of our home, all we own charred and devoured over the long night.
No one came to put the fire out and no one would let us try, so we just watched with nothing left now to watch the curl of smoldering smoke and the faint glow of red still alive in the ashes.
And, of course, the glass that looks
3- I live in a drawer
Iím a sixteen year old girl who lives
in a drawer.
Not all the time, but during those times when THEY come looking for us.
My mother and brother live in drawers, too.
But not my father.
Heís too big and needs to stand in the back of the closet, hoping no one will look in there when THEY come.
I still donít understand it all, about what might happen if THEY find us.
My father says itís too horrible to explain.
But I hear the cries at night, girlsí voices like my own, and boysí voices, and the voices of the old Ė all of whom did not stay in their drawers or attics or closets like they were told and now get dragged down the street to some place I canít even imagine.
I hear them mostly at night when the worlds gets quiet, or when my father rushes in to tell us to hide, and I climb into my drawer, and my brother climbs into his, and my mother Ė always last Ė holds my father for a moment as if she might never see him again.
We always hear the boots, snapping on the cobble stones, and the rattle of metal on metal, my vision seeing the stiff soldiers in their leather and helmets and rifles of their shoulders as if going to war.
My father says there is a war someplace, in Poland or England or France.
We donít really know.
But sometimes we hear the planes, and the guns and the bombs, and wonder if they will ever reach us, and if we will still be safe in our drawers when they do.
4- A crust of bread
I was a 12-year old girl when I came into this place.
Now I am 14, though I canít be sure if I am a boy or girl or even if I am still alive.
Iíve even stopped thinking I am hungry when I always am.
One guard who watches over us used to tell me he would give me the crusts of his black bread if I am nice to him.
I know what he means by nice and I always told him no.
Now when I might be willing to give him what he wants just for the crusts of bread, he tells me he doesnít want me any more.
Iím too much skin and bones.
Now he gets his fun by watching me as I watch him eat.
He always leaves the crusts.
And when heís done he takes them outside the fence and gives them to the birds.
Sometimes he kills the birds because he knows I like them, too.
We both know sooner or later, I will have to die.
Either I will starve or THEY will put me on a long line from which no one has ever come back.
Sometimes I miss momma and poppa who went on that line a long time ago.
Sometimes I think I even love this man, not because I do, but simply because he is all I have left,
And I know as long as I still ache for his crusts of bread, Iím still alive.
5- All I know
I donít do this for fun.
No job more taxes me than this one does.
Somewhere deep inside of me I do recognize them as human regardless of what my commander says.
They are real people with real feelings.
But they pollute us.
And if we expect to become what destiny has designed for us, we must remove them.
I am not saying killing is the right or even the best answer.
Time presses us to do something to make sure they can no longer do us harm, and we watch them die anyway.
So whey not end their misery and ours?
Do you think I get pleasure watching them day after day?
Those of them who can no longer labor for us die anyway, just not fast enough.
We cannot even shoot them fast enough to put an end to this.
So we try other things.
I see it as mercy, for them and for us, to end the slow torture we all suffer in speeding up their slow death.
Why burn them?
What else do we do?
No ditch dug deep enough can ever hold them.
To leave them would cause another kind of sickness.
Killing them is easy compared to riding ourselves of their remains.
No, I do not look them in the eyes Ė no more than I would a cow I got ready for slaughter.
What is the point?
Why agonize over the inevitable?
In the end we all must die.
Some of us die with a purpose, some die to keep the rest of us alive.
Others Ė like these Ė die so we can thrive.
Thatís all I know.
6- Every man for himself.
Why shouldnít I try and stay alive in this dog eat dog world?
If I donít help THEM, I become like the others, slowly turning into bone.
Why shouldnít I eat when I can?
How do I help anybody else by starving?
Do I feel guilty?
People whisper the war goes bad for THEM.
But we hear whispers all the time with no one able to tell if any of the whispers are true.
Even if they are true, will any of us be alive when someone opens the gates to let us out?
I donít like pointing to this person or that to say he or she should be next
But if Iím not the person pointed, Iím the person being pointed at.
Which is worse?
I hate THEM as much as any of the others do.
Yet in this world, is dying better than taking THEIR side?
Back in the ghetto when we all wore our yellow badges, when we all felt the pang of hate, I would never have thought to take THEIR side.
We are a suffering people.
We have learned to suffer together and to gain strength from that suffering.
But there is no strength here.
We live or die with suffering in-between.
There can be no lessons learned where there is no hope.
If God exists, He has abandoned us, and I must fend for myself.
In this place, it is every man for himself.
7- I pray for air
I breathe hard but still canít get any air.
Maybe I have Satan inside of me the way the Christians used to say
Anyone who would kill Christ must be evil.
But I am confused.
I canít remember killing Christ.
No anybody else in my family doing it.
When was this, I ask, then try to breathe.
If only my head would clear and I could think, I might make sense of why I am here.
And why we have spent these long months turning to dust before our time.
People say we are greedy and that we lust for gold or wealth, and yet I have seen weeks go buy even before all of this when bread was all I could afford to put on my familyís table.
I could not even purchase thread to men my childrenís clothing.
Yet if THEY saw it is so, it must be so.
If only I could breathe once the fresh air I knew as a child, one miserable and miserly breath Ė that is what I lust for now, praying even as I hear the hiss that brings in the gas.
If God has not abandoned us, He will let me breathe.
I am told that our kind pollutes THESE people, our blood and their blood must never mingle, and that we are some how inferior to THEM.
Maybe it is true.
My head is filled with cloudy thoughts, of urges and desires, of pain and sorrow, of needs and wants I know I will never be able to fulfill.
I feel like a beast Ė made to get down on my hands and knees like a beast, made to peg and pled for my life, to roll in the filth like a beast.
So this, too, must be true.
But do even beasts deserve this?
Why would any body believe God has this in mind for even beasts?
I breathe Ė therefore I am something living, until I can breathe no more.
Now, I pray only for air.
I push my broom.
It is what keeps me alive since someone must do it, and none of THEM will.
I do not think of what I sweep other than it as dust that has come here on the wind or I pretend it is the remains of a winters worth of expended coal.
Sometimes I do not think at all, or wonder why I donít try to stop it all.
I know why.
Better to push the broom, than to be pushed by it.
I used to cry at night after days like this. Yet hunger or numbness made me stop.
I do not cry or laugh anymore.
I just push my broom.
When I am done, I sleep.
I cannot stop the dreams, yet I do all I can to forget them.
Sometimes, I used to count the strokes I made, but stopped that when a vague thought came to me that their number might equal the number of faces I have not seen recently.
In the barracks, no one looks at me as I get ready for sleep; as if I have become the angel of death no amount of blood smeared can make pass over.
Some hate me for doing the work THEY should do Ė believing I have traded my place in line for the privilege.
I try not to believe that others have turned to dust in my place.
I try not to believe that I, too, will turn to dust when my sweeping is done.
I just sweep.