Brett Thompson

 

This Time

 
The chainsaw men who have come to cut the birch
puff on stale cigarettes. They size up the trunk.
They mutter jokes, sly innuendos
until the foreman clears his throat.
He speaks softly to his crew, knowingly
of the nature of dead roots, how if dredged up
they would crumble in an opened palm.

Sitting on the porch
we drink warm beer out of fat jelly glasses,
examining the cracks in our own palms.
Spring is here,
the ribbed tire swing
skips across the cakes of dust
like a flat black stone.

Long ago, Caitlin pounded
her toddler feet in the dust,
demanding to rise higher with every push.
We used to joke with her,
saying she carried fistfuls of rubber
in every demand, and that when
she finally launched off
she flew so high that she was a birch.
That branches grew out of her hair,
leaves out of her veins.

This time around is no joke.
The chainsaw is coughing
with the whine
of bit meeting bark
and the chainsaw men are grinding
their spent cigarettes into the dust.

On the porch, we lower our glasses
of beer. A woman
who was once a young girl
has slipped out into the yard;
she is coaxing dead leaves
up out of her skin.

Black Meditations Regarding a Holocaust Biopic

 
You were sleeping on the couch Father
when the terrible climax came on the screen,
the death vans rumbling at high afternoon
in the blinding sun at Chelmno.

Earlier in the day,
the soot stained rail cars from the Kolo junction
unloaded their packages
and the Jews of Lodz stood whole as families
for the last time, proud and together,
fathers stiff as statues, mothers huddled close,
blue lipped children squirming beneath their hips.
They were all starving. Some fell into the snow
and did not rise again.

When the head of the Sonderkommando barked out
in German tongue to form lines,
none of the Jews moved
and when the death squads descended
like a giant black raptor,
movement still seemed impossible.

Yet the truth of the matter
is that the Jews did move.
They did undress.
They did descend the stone steps
of the castle into the dark cellar.

And it was there in the dark
that the story began and ended.
As one small family
was ushered up to foot of the long ramp,
its father made a desperate stand.
The Germans fell upon him, beating him with truncheons.
and in the confusion, his young boy slipped from his grasp.

The child did not rise.
His mother began screaming then and did not stop
until she reached the van
and breathed in the carbon monoxide.

Father, why do I speak of these awful things?
As the credits roll across the screen, you are alive,
sprawled out on the couch, still asleep.
In the soft glow of the television set
your face is pallid as an Angel.
On the pillow on which it rests
your hand is limp and warm.
Silver talisman in the slates of moonlight,
I find you so powerful,
-crackling forearm, ringed golden knuckle-
that I stumble until my touch discovers
those fingers that are my own creation.
I grasp them tightly.
I must let go.

***

brett-thompsonBrett Thompson has been writing poetry since his graduate days at the University of New Hampshire where he earned a M.A. in English Writing with a concentration in poetry. He has been published in various journals including Karamu, The Henniker Review, Barnstorm and forthcoming in the CharlesCarter, DistrictLit and Colbalt. He lives and teaches in Concord, New Hampshire with his wife and two daughters who both love owls and anything purple.

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