Arbeit macht frei

by Rebecca Cohen
In my nightmares I always begin at the gate
pressed firmly to my mother’s side.
They send us marching barefoot over stretches of stiff, frosted grass
toward the concrete block puffing out bursts of black dust over the barracks.
We’re forced forward until we are standing in the carved out carcass of a slaughterhouse
in a huddled mess of bodies, hot flesh slapping together in the dimness.
Then the soft pattering of white pellets, like acid beads, rain down on us
tap, tap, tapping on scalps and foreheads and catching in our hair.
Desperation rises, sharp and thick,
filling up nostrils and burning a hole through my chest.
Our eyes bulge red as we gasp and choke and claw our way along the walls,
leaving scratch marks imbedded in the concrete for future generations to riddle out.
How else will they know we were here?