Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Wait for it to become part of who you are...

I'm a week and a half away from officially starting my student teaching placement at Hamilton High School, and I've spent all of 3 days in Mr. Moreau's classroom. The last two times I went, I was able to work with a 12th grade student (Amanda) on her independent study on creative writing. She's great! We get along so well, and it's so easy to talk to her for the whole hour about poetry and writing ideas. This finally feels worthwhile! Yesterday, after introducing her to Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and (of course) Jack Ridl, I asked her if she'd been working on anything since I saw her last time. She ran over to one of the library shelves, pulled out this huge book on the holocaust memorial in Washington D.C. and proceeded to show me all these pictures she had marked to spark her writing. (We had talked about our mutual love of WWII history last week, and how that can be a good spark for writing.) The two of us spent the rest of the hour writing from what we saw in the book, and we're going to bring our poems back to each other next week.

Throughout this experience, I kept thinking of Jack, and how he once told us that we have to wait for some experiences to become part of who we are before they'll come out naturally in our writing. So here, without further ado, is the poem I've been trying to write in my head since we visited Mauthausen (a concentration camp) during Vienna Summer School last summer.

what i would say to you if your walls had ears

Here is the poem I couldn't write
a year ago when I stood before your gates;
here are the words I couldn't speak
when your deathful stare rendered me silent:
You held her here, someone's mother, sister,
daughter, wrote Arbeit Macht Frei above your doors
so she believed she could work for her freedom, earn
her way home. Instead, you stole her shoes
and their journey, stripping her eyelids
of their yellow-painted house, geranium box
on the window sill, mailbox with letters inside,
as easily as you stole her coat from her
arms, the strength from her voice. Don't lie
to me, telling me you mistook her for a monster
speaking a foreign tongue. Her hair was gold,
her eyes blue, her only crime a yellow star hanging
from her neck. I hold you
responsible for the cracks in her heels, the jaundiced
tint of her thin skin, the barbed wire encircling
her wrists, her scalp. Her hair lies in piles
at your ankles. Who could believe in God
in a place like this? And yet who could survive
if they didn't? You took the time to paint the walls
that held her, load your camera with film to imprison
her image in my mind. And I can't forgive you
for the hollow cheeks of her sisters years later;
they sing Slovakian hymns to the skeleton brazen in stone,
the bones raised up in her name, their shadows casting
themselves in stripes across lawn now too green with life.
Can't you hear them singing?
Can't you hear them singing?
C a n ' t y o u h e a r t h e m s i n g i n g ?


Blogger KTB said...

kar, start with "you held her here". you wrote into the poem. while you needed those first four lines, the reader doesn't, and the beginning is stronger without.

otherwise i love it, and when i read it more closely (and at a more reasonable hour of the day) i will comment further.

oh how it has all become a part of who we are...

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