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.
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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