perspectives on the second world war

            it is a terror
in the closet   her knees
are limp     eyes straining to see 
every object glows with a 
private halo     pulling down
her skirt       the trickle 
of urine along her thigh and calf
she wipes it carelessly with her hand
biting her lips she fixates on
pebbles and rusty nails along 
the path to the truck            it is an oblivion
seen in matter-of-fact gestures
wiping the child’s nose with her fingers
she says     blow     his eyes shine     as she 
feels the pressure of the doorknob        palms 
wet slipping out of her grasp            she whispers
not now        not yet       we’ve been so careful
he’s a good child         just a little more time
she pleads with them       we will not be 
careless anymore         this time the knob falls 
into the glare of lights        voices scream
orders she does not understand    but obeys
blow    she tells him pulling down her skirt
and wiping his nose with her fingers     later
it is still over      has been over 
since the knob slipped from her hand
like the wet fish that jumped while she tried
to scale it      later after the not yet
not now       the walk nude across the yard
she glimpses the meaning of the order
allows her eyes to widen for one
moment and see the path             it is a coldness
never before felt or imagined       she clutches 
her hands tearing at her thighs    wailing 
to the others she tries to lean on them
to explain the mistake    the small error
nothing is irrevocable     she screams     nothing 
to them trying to lean      they push her away
and her hands cup the knob     for a better hold
to keep out the light        her world is cement
stone    iron 


listening to conversations        over brandy
i am always amazed at their certainty
about the past      how it could have been
different      could have been     turned around
with what ease       they transport themselves
to another time/place      taking the comfort
confidence of an after-dinner drink

                       it would be too impolite
of me to say       my mother hid with me
for two years among ignorant peasants    who
would have turned us in      almost at once      had 
they known who we were      who would have watched 
with glee while we were carted off      even though
grandad had bounced me on his knees and fed me 
from his own spoon      and my mother is a frightened 

                        it would be too impolite 
to say     you do not know yourselves     you do not know 

"perspectives on the second world war" from Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems1971-2021 © 2022 by Irena Klepfisz. Published by Wesleyan University Press. Used by permission.