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At the Holocaust Museum by Alice Friman

At the Holocaust Museum

December 1999

by Alice Friman

Like Dante, we too are led down.

The elevator that swooped us up

and spewed us out, leaves us—

clusters of strangers—to the inexorable power

of no way to go but with each other

and the relentless spiral of design.

We shuffle, slow as sludge

in a drain, winding to the bottom.

We gawk, not in disbelief but believing

this has little to do with us—our comfort

in the face of explanations that explain

nothing, the old jackboot footage

of rantings, book burnings, and the car

that waits for us, rattling with ghosts

on its siding, and the glass case

big as Germany, knee-deep in human hair.

We grow quiet. We have crawled

into our eyes. There is nothing

but what we see. And at base bottom,

what’s to see but the dredged-up bottom

of ourselves that belongs only to ourselves

and the moving tide of each other.

We crowd in to look. The eye is hungry—

a dog dragging its belly through streets,

sniffing out its own vomit, not getting enough:

the experiments, the ovens, and all their

tattooed histories fidgeting in smoke

that rose like bubbles in a fish tank

to dissipate in air. Fingers pluck

at our sleeves. Gold teeth hiss

in their case. What do they want of us,

we who can give nothing, reduced to nothing

but dumb pupils staring at evidence—

the starved and naked dead, the bulldozers,

the British soldier throwing up in his hand?

We press to the TV monitors, mob in,

fit our bodies together like multiple births

in the womb, wanting the heat of each other,

the terrible softness beneath clothes.

Excuse me, Pardon, and the knot of us

slips a little, loosens to make room.

In the smallest of voices, Sorry we say

as if, battered back to three again,

all we have is what Mother said was good.

Pinkie in a dike. Bandaid on a gusher.

But what else do we know to do

at the end of another century that retrospect

will narrow to a slit, if this Holocaust—

this boulder big as Everest—isn’t big enough

to change the tide that ran through it?

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