The horse- backed Scythians passed. Myriad others came, rested
and settled between the Oder and the Vistula. A Prince of Krakow
from the house of Vasa, Sigismund, no King of conscience, drew a
charter the tribes of Israel read. Poisoned in time that Guidon also
attracted Hordes of Teutons to mix a Polish soup.
Krakow in winter.
City of silence and Churches.
Sunday and crowds shush through the snow
In slow deadfall.
The vaulted ceilings of the Basilica
Command the eye,
There the throng is immense.
Most stand, muffled and still.
An old man in coloured trousers
Drums his stick on the tiled floor,
Adjusts his haversack
And parts the communicants.
In the flat land the storks’ nests hang high
In empty spaces.
In the long hall of the Sukiennice
I bought a chess set for my son.
I booked the Auschwitz tour
From the reception desk at my hotel.
At this time of year I was the only guest.
Breakfast for one, self-served from a variety
Of cereals, fruit, eggs fried, juices, bread rolls
All in abundance. I scanned the empty tables,
Laid down my tray on the white table cloth
Of one, center aisle, facing a window
And watched the reluctant snowflakes fall.
Deep ditches by the roadside,
Bright yellow Hellebore
In contagion waved,
And Plaszow we all but glimpsed
And passed, to the mutterings
Of our dragoman.
In the coach the video revealed
Graphic images of what awaited us.
We dismounted at the gate
And walked beneath that malefic sign,
Our voices hushed, eye contact dissolved.
The journey back changed many,
Bookmarked in memory, and later
Returned to in reasoned anger.
Warsaw then, without socks,
A slight oversight.
Breakfast at the Ibis
Cheese and salami
Earl Grey ignored.
Outside a limo awaited
With driver and interpreter
To take me to Treblinka.
A two-hour drive
With little conversation.
Ignored our passing.
The Pines stand rigid.
Bleak wooden houses
Bore an air of loneliness
Like the empty nests above.
Isabella my guide, led pointing
There, there, take that!
My camera clicked in obedience.
In the forest we walked
On a cobbled path parallel to the unloading dock
Boulders ahead of us bore
A Babel of towns inscribed.
A ghost of evil strode here
A white trousered Martinet,
The black booted Strangl, the commandant.
Trees hold no secrets
Yet the forest here seemed alive,
Each branch whose saddened leaves
Flickered and waved
Doomed in this limboid place,
Haunted always by a haunting silence.
In a restaurant named Tejsza
In a town called Tykocin
In the Province of Bialstock
We halted before returning to Warsaw.
I ate tentatively the Zureck soup
Listening to my guide nonchantly talk
Of the two thousand Jews murdered
After a Selektion in nearby Lupochovo forest.
Alone I sought the Synagogue
With its domed ceiling
And the prayer shawls clinging
To the walls like flattened ghosts.
Here the tourists traipse and stare,
Take close-up of the bimah,
Ponder the mystery of the Holy Ark
Curtained away from the Gentile gaze.
In Tykocin now there are no Jews.
My own journey is complete.
As I board my flight home
Disordered images demand attention;
The flatness of the land,
The towering nests of Storks,
The bent backs of mushroom pickers,
The historic Old Town,
The infamous Umschlagplaz, the Meeting Place,
Freedom fighters rising from the ground
Stoney determination on frozen faces.
And on the trams and on the streets
Other faces worn from piety.