January. Grey, the midwinter light dim and obscured by low clouds.
A stray snowflake drifts down, fluttering, silent, to dissipate on the ground, melting, lost, all sense of uniqueness sinking away.
Below my feet, the whole earth carries the memory of each being who has gone before. Some passed with love and great ceremony, some with the masses of millions, their eyes streaming, clutching their breasts at what had been and was now not. Their graves are marked, flowers strewn, lines of verse recited, lines of descent and influence and inspiration cited until memory fades and they are not. Last to pass are their works–their words, their buildings, their music, those things they created with their hands, but in the wink of an eye those, too will pass.
No monument lasts a million years. Not even the universe endures to the end of time.
But others’ futures were taken from them, and with them, my own possible futures. Some were swallowed up whole, nameless, in some nameless place. The silent earth knows their names. Some in pieces, large, or infinitesimally small. Some were carried up on the wind, scattering like snowflakes, each spark unseen but not witnessed. The silent earth remembers.
But the earth has no words to tell the stories to all but a few who can read her language, in the shadows in the land itself, the places made dark, the silent screaming, the desecration, the sinister and unnatural places where things were hidden and denied.
“We cannot abide such places,” we say, and we let ruins and grassy ravines and forest pits speak their truths about memories and time and the evil that has passed from among us, and we say that we have learned and that we mourn, but only for that singular thing in that singular time which must now be gone, must it not?
A heart that cannot feel. A wound that cannot heal.
Never Again. Of course not. That was a long time ago, anyway.
It’s different this time. Calm down. No one’s building ovens. That’s not the same. That’s not the right word. Detention camps aren’t concentration camps.
Those people. They’re bad people. Not like that at all.
I swirl for yet a moment in the January sky, alone, unique, but yearning for those of my kind, who know the dance is but short. Who know that together, we might blanket the earth, and in our passing and melting into one another we might grow in strength, transform the land, bringing forth new life, new growth from barren, blasted ground, and awakening the forgotten futures, what might have been and still might be.
Written on January 27, 2020, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Music: Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony 13, first movement: ‘Babi Yar’. Poetry by Evgeny Yevtushenko. Alexei Tikhomirov, bass, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Riccardo Muti, conductor. At Babi Yar now there are a few monuments to what happened, but Yevtushenko’s poem is still largely true, and there are other places like it that are almost forgotten–or the subject of vandalism.
Rush, ‘Red Sector A.’. Music by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, lyrics by Neil Peart. Geddy Lee’s parents were Holocaust survivors who met in the camps, were separated, and managed to reunite (pretty much miraculously) after the war. I am struck by what we almost didn’t have–and mourn for the futures lost.