Musings #35


She hates showers –

not because the water is too hot

or too cold, or because all the steps

to cleanliness, once simple,

now overwhelm her.

After the war, she soaked

in hot baths, overflowing

with milky bubbles, luxuriated

in the slide of silk on skin

that kept bad dreams at bay.

She remembers none of this.

Slowly and in reverse,

like a lover undressing

a woman for the first time,

disease strips away

memory and function,

frontal lobes to stem.

What she does remember

had coiled, deep

and burrowed in the brain –

the shaving, the delicing showers,

the coarse striped uniforms they wore

laboring behind barbed wire.

And later, poison gas pouring down

from the overhead nozzles at Dachau,

and her parents’ upturned faces

as they struggled

not to breathe.

All this

–what her once-mind strove

to forget, to unsee–


by that secret code, there,

snaked round her wrist –

that blue tattoo of numbers.