After listening to a Holocaust survivor’s speech and suddenly becoming disenchanted with everything

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After listening to a Holocaust survivor’s speech and suddenly becoming disenchanted with everything 

I.
Another one “bites the dust,”
hacking, lips stained pale,
coughing up more dead skin
and dirt, going down right
in front of us and no body
bends to pick him up.
My fingernails unintentionally
scrape into his arm
when I slip my hand under
his shoulder. Blood coats
my fingers as I apologize
for hurting him. I was only
trying to help. 

II.
Nippy November nights lead
to a discussion with Sarah
about the truth that I’ve never
fallen in Love. She says
that’s good, she says it leaves
me with a heart that’s not
disenchanted with Love.
But I think I’ve platonic—
Loved enough people
to become disenchanted
and also scrape my heart
of the bitterness and start again.

III.
Flit, flit, flit
one more screaming
reason, one more whip
to keep us in line,
one more ache plunging
through my fingers
as I try not to let go
of the lifeline, one more
frustrated pang as I
realize there are still
many years let to live.

IV.
Many nights, I’d fall
asleep with tears blistering,
asking God why I had
to be the older sister
to my older sisters.
Ashley went out to dinner
with her older sister,
but for many years,
I would’ve been lucky
to even get a smile
from one of mine.
I folded laundry
and washed dishes
for three months, while
she was in rehab;
my parents get angry
when I ask her to fold
laundry just once
because I had to do it alone
for far too long.

V.
The compulsions come
in neat little waves
of two, or four, or six.
This is that one thing
I’ll never beat, beat, that
last battle I can never
quite end. I pause,

blink four times, realize
I’ve been tapping my foot
in intervals of two. It’s just
as well; of all things
to struggle with, these
ununderstandable compulsions
aren’t that bad.

VI.
Rosie and I sit at the table.
Frosting covers our lips
as we lick the last of the cru
mbles from our fingers.
Red velvet is the color
of blood; I don’t know why
I never thought of that
before. I grow serious
and make Rosie promise
that she’ll never stop
Loving Jesus. It’s happened
to too many darlings of mine
to not be entirely unconvinced
when she promises me
that she won’t.

VII.
I’ve been to the psych ward
before. Not for myself,
but to visit someone I adore.
There was a man
with rope-burn marks
around his throat. I, too,
have entertained the idea
that it would be easier
to die than to keep screaming
to my heart, “Keep beating!
Keep beating! Keep living!”
but the only thing that sepa
rates me from him is that
I found a few reasons to live,
and maybe I would’ve been
too scared to try to die.

VIII.
But I’ll never know,
because I never got
to that point. Instead,
I sit here at 4:00 a.m.,
scrawling a few words
that don’t do anything
but stare at me from their
vantage point on the bright
screen, asking me why
I thought they were worth
writing, why I thought I
was worth recording,
why I’m not asleep right
now, because at least then
I’d be useful to someone.

IX.
Stop—stop—stop—
Right there, no—
Closer, closer, closer
still. Don’t tell anyone,
but I think I saw one
heated glimmer
of the smallest hope,
the faintest shade
of pink ever to be held
in human hands.
Keep that alive.

 

Interlude:
I didn’t mix enough chocolate syrup into this glass
of milk. I didn’t stand up for my faith in class
when I had the perfect opportunity to. I fell asleep
at 9:00 p.m. and woke up at 3:00 a.m. to finish
my homework. I forgot to pray for my sister today,
even though her unsalvation is normally what keeps
me awake—maybe that’s why I fell asleep. Ah! what
a tangled life, what a magnificent clash of unmatching
tectonic plates.

X.
Somewhere in our
conversation, I confess that
I’ve just had an argument
with the college chaplain
over something that
has nothing to do
with faith. I tell my adviser
he’d make a better chaplain,
which is a joke, because
he’s outrageously not
at all a religious man
in any way. Then he
tells me he used
to be a Christian. Well.

XI.
Kyle has asked me
lots of important questions—
why don’t I cuss?
Why don’t I party? Why
do I go to church?
I’m hard-pressed
to find the answers,
and by the time I decide
it doesn’t matter what
he thinks and I should
just tell him the truth,
he’s already walked
away.

XII.
But in spite of that,
the next time he asks
me about my faith,
I tell him. I still pray
in the cafeteria before
I eat. I still open
my Bible in the middle
of the science building
and have a Bible study
with a struggling Christian.
I still write Christian poems
and I won’t be afraid
to read them out loud in class.
My choir is going on tour
to Chicago, and when they
asked if I’d be interested
in seeing “The Book of Mormon,”
I don’t hesitate to say
“no,” because I am religious.

XIII.
And I am religious.
Every day, growing more,
leading one of my college’s
Christian organizations
in prayer every Wednesday
night, Loving God
and simultaneously
not understanding why
He’s let so many souls stray.

XIV.
I sat defiantly in the field,
and I blew out my candle
and dared God to hear me.
I told Him I hated Him,
and when asked if I learned
anything about God
after the late-night
stroll, I responded,
“I learned He is deaf.”
I do this for my sister;
I hold anger because
she’s going to hell and I—
God help me, I can’t
let go of that, no matter
how much my hands
tremble. Every twisted
vein of my heart asks
God why He won’t save
her, and though I’ve long
since apologized
for the rage,
I won’t apologize
for not understanding. 

XV.
I sprawl
out on my bed, their words
hanging in my ears,
dangling with rope-burns
burns burns burns burns
down to the flesh,
all the way to the bone.
Is it true? Do people
“like me” have a special
claim to Hell? And here
I thought I was doing so well. 

XVI.
Hannah listens to me
geek out over John Donne.
His sonnets batter my heart
and I can’t stop talking
about poetry. Most friends
would have rolled their eyes
and called me “crazy”
by now, but not Hannah.
She and I know life too well
to do that.

XVII.
At the end of the talk,
a girl asks Inge, “How
did you find it in  your heart
to forgive the ones
who put you in concentration
camps just because you are
a Jew?” She responds,
I didn’t forgive them.”

XVIII.
God forgave me.

Just a few more years in this place
Just a few more miles left to roam
Just a few more breaths yet to take
Just a few more trials, and I’m home.

The End

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