A mustard-yellow tattered star, and
JUDE mimicking the Hebrew alphabet.
A rectangular patch for
a faded blue prison number.
A pale yellow file card with a
small, passport-size mug shot
of a fifteen-year-old boy with a newly shaved head
and protruding ears, a mouth held tightly closed
and wide, wide dark eyes.
When I was eight years old,
my father came to my Hebrew school class.
He asked how many people
lived in our city; a few of us mumbled
uncertain guesses, no one knew.
He took a piece of chalk and wrote 80,000
on the board, said this was how many.
I thought about shopping malls and schools
and neighborhoods, about the vastness of my world.
Then he wrote another number on the board: 6,000,000.
I dont know what else he talked about that
Sunday morning, what stories he told; I just remember
all those zeroes lined up against each other.
In my eleventh grade history class,
a room full of bored adolescents,
we are about to see a film and the teacher refuses,
for once, to tell us anything about it.
The projector hums and flutters, the room is dark
and full of whispers, giggles, chairs scraping the floor.
When I realize the film is Night and Fog,
my body stiffens. I have seen it before;
I know about the mass graves
overflowing with charred bones, piles of eyeglasses and
suitcases and shoes, living skeletons
huddled behind barbed wire.
The film gets caught in the mechanism and begins
to flap and sputter; someone gets up
to fix it but Im already out of my chair and
heading for the hall where I can lean against
the cold metal lockers and close my eyes.
Its the only way to stop myself
from wondering which emaciated face is his.