Historical Trauma

by David Asia (June 2011)

My grandfather is running,

Running for his life.

From Dinepropetrovsk to Radomyshl,

Shepetovka to Berezovka,


Through thickets of consonants,

Clutching his ever loosening pants

As if they too

Were desperate to flee.


From Pryzemysl,

To the ghetto at Lodz,

          And, finally,

To Auschwitz.

Don’t think too much about this, Eyniklech,

He once told me.

You’ll be tempted to explain it.


One morning,

I asked my grandfather

If he believed in God.

He was drinking his coffee

Through a sugar cube

Balanced like a jewel

Between his teeth.

Yes, he said,

In gods who lust so much

After beautiful women

They turn themselves into swans

Just to fuck them.

As for the others,

He said,

Dissolving the last of the sweet cube

In the warm, brown liquid,

Not so much.


And what about the bloody trail

Of other genocides

Left by the great beast,

I asked him,

Drunk on poetry.

There is no great beast, he said.

That is the point,

And the problem.


At the edge of physics,

When even the mathematics breaks down,

Wave functions collapse

And twinned, spinning particles

Separated by light years

Make a mockery of time.

Metaphors abound.


But at the edge of history,

There is no oxygen.

We cannot breath,

And it is not as if

We are holding our breath.

Whether columns of ash,

The cauterized, loose ends

Of tribal madness,

Or silhouettes still standing

From some slow,

Meticulously managed starvation,

We are the trailing edge

Of a sacred remnant,

Left to languish

On the moon.

And here we are not visitors,

Floating above this awful residue

In safely shielded reverence.

This is where we live.


When my grandfather died,

I felt life sift

From his hand

Like sand

Through my fingers.

His face emptied of both

The familiar darkness

And the humbling

Bursts of iridescence

Ignited by his rare drift

Beyond the fence of memory.

I’ve never seen him so still,

My mother said.


Our Coast Salish Indian friend said that

We should burn

My grandfather’s belongings,

Freeing his spirit,

And our own,

From his suffering here.

Three pairs of pants

Three shirts

Three pairs of boxer shorts

Three pairs of socks

Eight pairs of shoes

Five belts

And a pair of reading glasses.

All these we gave

To a homeless shelter.

No burnt offering,

No fingers of smoke

Curling up

To night’s dark door.


As for the suffering,


Some things you just don’t give away.


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