At the Holocaust Museum
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?