For Jimmy Ernst

 

If you’re a Jew and want to know
which transport your mother was on,
the French railroads have a list.
Jimmy showed me the name of his:
“Lou Straus-Ernst . . . Transport 76.”

One of those who made the journey
and survived, gave an account:
“Seventy would be put in a boxcar.
There would be a long wait
while the train was boarded up.
Then three days’ travel east ...
paper mattresses on the floor
for the sick, bare boards for the rest.
Many did not survive.”

*

At Auschwitz shortly before the end
one had seen her: “A woman totally exhausted,
half lying, half leaning against a wall,
warming herself in the last rays of a dying sun.”

And still we believe in loving-kindness…
some even believe there’s a God.
This is a mystery, ein Rätsel
God himself could not explain.

*

A few minutes’ walk from the house
where I live, there’s a beach,
a brown strip of sand
lined with tide-wrack and litter . . .
boards, plastic bottles
and, at the water’s edge, green reeds.

“Sea of Grass” Jimmy called it.
Every time I come here I think of him
and his painting.

            “Work!
God wants you to,” said Flaubert.

There they are every summer
just as he painted them,
growing up again ... a hedge
of stems and leaves standing motionless.

Blue water, and a harbor’s mouth
opening into the sky.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 4 Number 9, on page 35
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