I pass a barracks filled with children’s shoes.
That smell — so human — is still strong despite
the decades that have passed. What’s frightening here
is everything was done so rationally:
the miles of tracks were laid; the fences rigged;
the temperature to render bone to dust
was calculated on a drawing board
by sober engineers.I’m not alone;
a population hungry for my boots
is staring though the gaps along the wire.
There’s anger at my well-fed face. They squat
and shiver on the frozen ground as I
take photographs of crematoria
that turned their very bodies into ash.
How odd to be a tourist here, to see
searchlights, wooden towers, and coils of wire
in three dimensions, tinted brown and rust
instead of flat and grainy black and white.
All history’s been reduced to clips of film
in montages I carry in my head.
I stop to take a picture of the stacks
that once spit out gray ash onto the streets
and rings of houses lined up on the hills
that overlooked the camp. There’s not a soul,
that’s visible, to kick a soccer ball
or tend the flapping laundry stretched on lines.
The shadow of the smokestack sweeps the woods
to touch suburban lawns on winter days.
My watch is broken. No, it’s time itself
that’s slowed. I see the second hand move on
from point to point as if it’s passing through
a medium much thicker than plain air.
To pass inside the boundaries of this world
of ash piles, sorrow, muck, and unmarked graves —
of fates dealt out in numbers staggering —
is risky; one can never quite return.
The images that I’ve recorded here,
mechanically, are pale compared to those
that come to me when I lie down and meet
the citizens of that metropolis
inside the borders of my dreaming self —
another place the dead can call their own.