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Dee Sunshine

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A Burnt Offering
by Dee Sunshine
Monday, July 14, 2003

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A reflection on the holocaust from the perspective of a generation x-er.

(27th January 1995: The 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau)


You covered up the mirrors:
Not wanting to see
The radiance dissipating,
The sexless city
Sucking you in
Erasing your face.

Without reflection
We clutched at each other:
Clinging together
Like little children.

We clung together
Till gravity
Pulled us apart.

* * *

Junked out on television
We watched the world
Disintegrating in raptures
Of violent dreams:
Each dreamer being
So much less
Than the sum of the parts;
Each dream, a fragment
Deconstructed from the whole.

* * *

The sirens and screams
That shredded the night’s silence
Were a forewarning
Of the worst that would come

We could sense
The beast’s bubbling breath
Under the skin of the earth

* * *

To the hot dark rhythms of the night
We allowed ourselves the luxury of entropy:
The mute ecstasy of mutual extinction.
It wasn’t love,
But the fire of it kept us warm.

* * *

In sleep we would lose ourselves,
Let loose shadowy spectres:
Abominations that slithered
Through the ragged gashes
In the veneer of our sanity,
Trailing a terrible afterbirth
Foetid and reeking of fear.

Our dreams gave birth to
Walled in ghettoes,
Bloody towers,
Children without eyes,
Animal corpses,
Beggars, Mobs,
Freight trains:
The armies of the dead.

* * *

Waking to the lightless morning:
Lost to each other,
Lost to the detritus
Of fear filled dreams,
We would shiver, cling together
And fill each other’s ears
With the hot blood
Of promised tomorrows.


In holding together and clutching
We imagined ourselves whole:
Sublimated in a spurious spirituality;
Elevated above the chaos of spiky rooftops
And darkly smoking chimneys.

But the sky blew through every construct,
Insinuating a secret hunger,
Infecting us
With the knowledge of our fragility.

We were held together by mere fragments:
Broken pieces
That could never be anything more.


Sometimes, standing skeletal
In the rusted metal wind
With clouds clearing
From frosted skies
A blur of stars
Dazzling our eyes,
We would be surprised
By something bigger than love.

The futility would fall away
And we’d taste
That ineffable nothing
With an undefined
Inner sense.

Transcending the linear:
We would cross the border
Without passports or maps.


The night before you left for some other sanctuary
We tore the clothes from each other
And pulled our loins together:
It was a last frantic attempt at connection
Before our final separation.

In the deliberate darkness,
Not wanting to see what we’d lost in each other,
We thrashed to an angry climax.

You were a nazi storm trooper
And I, a sub-human Jew.


Last night I sat shivering at my desk
Watching the moon track across the sky
Listening to screech owls
Yammering in the distance,
The wind muttering to the trees,
The silence from my unsleeping bed.

Tonight I cannot pretend I’ll sleep.

In the double-glazed safety of suburbia
I cannot excuse this agitation:
These solid buildings nurse the spirit
To slumbering, willing forgetfulness.

But I cannot forget you:
Your post-war, housing scheme passions
Assail me from across the great divide,
Shaking me to my very foundations.

Your ice blue eyes
Are watching me as I squirm:
You torturer, you.

I miss you:
I am at a loss out here,
On the periphery of prosperity
With this job, this house,
This security:
I miss our days and nights
Of unemployed
Reckless penury.

I miss the neon emptiness,
The dirty knickers,
The one bar electric fire,
The stinking fridge,
The anonymous screams
In the death still night,
The nightmares and the dreams
Of a greener, cleaner place.


My heart is acrid as this ashtray,
Hard as blown glass.
There is no poem to our love:
I remember only
The muttering of your body against mine
In abstract;
One sideways blow
And the image is cracked.

I need your hands
To pull me out
From this stagnant murk.

I need your Teutonic no nonsense
To wipe away this Semitic self-pity.


Tonight I am alone, no hand to guide me:
Under my feet the world is trembling,
Mountains moving
To Mohammed’s muezzin call.

Soon the infidel, the unclean
Will be routed out, cut down:
Devoured in ash and flame.


A postcard from Japan:
A picture of gleaming, erect Osaka –
Skyscrapers piercing
A Hiroshima red, sunset sky.

On the back it reads
“I am alive and well,
If a little shaken.”

My brave, adventuring friend,
But a butterfly’s kiss from Kobe:
She says, “don’t worry”,
But I do.

Drunk on my father’s brew
Of cynicism and anxiety,
I watch the storm clouds gathering,
Drawing near
And I’m filled full
Of wretched fear.

These islands, he once mused,
Are but wretched specks
In a vast wilderness;
And these oceans
Just a dribble of sweat
Rolling down the buttock cleft
Of an indifferent deity.

My father knew
The heart of his father God
Even before
His bar mitzvah day:
He was but ten
When the news filtered through
From Poland and Germany.


“The struggle of people against power
Is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
Milan Kundera

These flickering images of newsreel
Strobe blue in the late night corners
Of this hallucinated, tangled room:
Random, uncollated images
Of collateral damage;
Names colliding
In a jangling discordant poetry –
Angola, Sarajevo, Eritrea,
East Timor, Cambodia,
Haiti, Soweto, Kuwait -
An endless litany
Of forgotten places
Like the dispassionate whisper
Of a distant, voiceless God.

Here, great Jehovah,
Are the bits of a child
Who stood on a land mine.

Here is the skull
Of a prisoner
Who had nothing to confess.

Here are the bodies
Of women and children
Who were queuing
At the well for water.

Here, there and everywhere
Uncountable numbers,
Unfathomable numbers:
I would tattoo them
On your loving arms,
Dear God.


My great aunt - my grandmother’s elder sister -
Is over fifty years dead:
No exact record exists,
But somewhere in Hamburg or Hanover
Her skin still shades the harsh light of a naked bulb.

That is all that remains of her.

The books that were bound
By the glue made from her pulverised bones
Have long since been read and discarded;
And the soap made from her body fat
Was used up
Scrubbing clean
The blackened faces
Of Aryan coal miners.


I learned the necessity of lies early on:
Picking up a penny in the playground
I had a momentary dream
Of dainties, fruit salads and black jacks,
But it was soured by classmates
Who gathered round, taunting me,
Calling me “a fucking Jew”.

The half-Jewish blood
In my veins
Boiled in shame.


Twenty-five years ago, this very night
I sat by the muttering gas fire,
In the blue light of the television
And the shadow of my father’s chair.

It was then that I hardened my heart,
For I was tormented by his weeping.


Weep not,
For the dead are but dead
And the past is always passing
Further and further over
The ever-receding horizon.


Under the eiderdown I twist
Like a colony of maggots
Eating the last scant remains
Of a corpse.

I am cocooned against
The January frost,
Waiting for the watery dawn,
Wishing this knot of cloth
Was a chrysalis:
That I’d burst forth
From these dark dregs
Into that wondrous
And kindly light.

The clock on the mantle shelf
Savages the last vestiges
Of the night’s silence,
Ticking its fascist beat,
Dragging me ever onwards.

Its number fragmented face mocks:
Its tic-toc like the rocking of railway carriages
And the tarnished laughter of Polish permafrost;
Its hollow echo like the passing of freight wagons
Through war torn, crumbling factory towns.

This clock
With its bland, smug face,
Measures the pulse
With the clinical precision of Mengele.


The same sea in us all,
But waves breaking
On different shorelines.

Drunken footfalls
On the stair head
Mark the passing
From night to dawn:
The clock laughing,
Its hollow pedantry
As celebration reaches
Inevitable anti-climax.

I wait for the door to open,
The return of the revellers,
My sisters and brothers:
One flesh,
But waves breaking
On different shores.

Belatedly, the feast
Has been consumed.
Dry mouths have slaked their thirst
With dry waters;

And now the tongues are loose
With burnt offerings
To a dead poet.


Hark, the heroes are returned!
Drunken and clamouring,
Their voices raised and roused:
Glorious, victorious
And, by the way,
Totally fucking stocious.

The Saltire flies high,
Blowing in the wind
Of nationalist pride.
The Sassenachs
Are once again routed:
Slain by the true might
Of Burns and Bruce.

With haggis and neeps in the belly
And the power of whisky
On their tongues, they ask
Wha’s like us?
These true blue blooded
Xenophobic Scots.

Has the bagpipe’s wail
Deafened their ears?
For none among them can hear
The same sea
Which moves within us all.


It is not as many miles as you imagine
From Hampden to Nuremberg:
The cross is easily crooked.

When the soul is bled dry
There is nothing left
But the braying of empty minds.


Four fifteen, a forest
Of broken crucifixes,
Flags, effigies,
The reek of stale beer
In half drunk cans:
I fix a coffee
In the crematorial kitchen,
Resigning myself
To lack of sleep.

The celebrations are over
And darkened rooms
Are littered with snoring:
Making my solitude,
My sleeplessness,
All the more poignant.

In the broken wind
I hear black Lilith laughing:
Schottland Schottland
Uber alles.
Ich bin unbeweglich.

Four fifteen and I cannot sleep.
How can I sleep
When you are not asleep beside me?


Back in those halcyon days
When her nest floated upon the sea
My mother would lull me to sleep, singing
“Silent night, holy night,
All is still, all is quiet.”

Back then, I believed
In the perfection of peace.


Finally, I rise,
Wipe the sleeplessness
From my eyes:
Discard the ragged heap
Of bleached out
Striped pyjamas.

The snow has turned to rain now
And a thin line of watery daylight
Has lain itself across the horizon.

I scrape my fine nibbed pen
Across the stiff white parchment paper
Of my leather bound writing book
And cannot suppress the image
Of Jewish skin:
It creeps upon me
With a Semitic tenacity,
Sending into the penumbra
Any Burnsian sentiments
That might be lurking
In the Scottish parts
Of my bastard blood.


Is it my bastard blood
Which makes me fear
My country’s cry for nationhood?

What is this Scotland?
Is it not just a mass of land,
Part of an island,
Conquered by robber barons
Whose bloodthirsty mouths
Declared themselves kings?

Who are these Scots
That claim their nation?
Are they Picts, Celts and Norse?
Britons, Angles and Saxons?
Italians, Irish and Jews?
African, Chinese and Asian?

What line divides
The waves of immigrants
Who have settled
On this fragment of island?

Whose hand divines
The right to be?

Who is Scottish, exactly?
Who can call this crag of rock
Their homeland
And who must work
For their freedom?


Ich bin, ich bin:
In the loveless dark,
In the icy January rain,
In the silent cold rage

There is a swastika
Where my heart used to be.

My love, my love
What has become of me?


Weary gunmetal dawn:
A miasma of monochrome.
The wind is stilled
And leaden rain
Like dull crystal
Softly splinters
On slush stained pavements.


Here I am,
Within the soulless framework
Of technology
Filled with the rhythm
And hot impulses
Of our time.

Herr Goebbels:
Your ghost moves
In the salt wind
Whistling through
Rusted metal
Skeletal cranes;
Raw rasping
Teutonic laughter,
Ich höre Sie.

These abandoned docks
Bordering the cold wastes
Of the northern sea,
My footprints alone
In the grey snow,
But across the waters
And across time,
Your voice
Following me.

No solace
In the dark sodium light
In this unpeopled hour.

Across the waters,
Across time,
Your voice is
A thousand broken windows,
A tongue of fire.
Smoking chimneys,
A black leather zeitgeist.

From Zyklon B
To bunker suicide
You see, Herr Goebbels,
Tomorrow belongs
Not to you, not to me.


Among the carnage of yesterday
And the carnage of tomorrow
What hope is there for today?
What hope
For this dismal grey morning?

Without you, my love,
There is no love.

Without you,
There is no God
To oversee this chaos.


These tomorrows, these yesterdays:
If you were here
They would all be erased
In the pyre of our passion play.

These flags, these abstract
Arbitrary divisions
Would be wiped away.

The slate would be clean:
No scribbled saltire,
No tricolour or union jack
Would sully its perfect blackness.
There’d be no star of David
Muddying the sky,
No crescent moon.
All would be dissolved
In the fire of our Shiva-Shakti.
All would be undone
In the tender loop of love.

If you were here
I’d be blinded to unbelieving eyes.

No more would I see
This scorched skin,
These skeletons in stained shrouds
Of striped cloth.

If you were here
I’d believe in a listening God:
One who heard the trains
One who tasted the sweat,
The sorrow, the bitter ash
Of Auschwitz-Birkenau;
One who could conjure rainbows
And promise a perfect new tomorrow.

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Reviewed by Kirstin Ann (Reader) 4/1/2010
This is amazing.
I created an account JUST so I could tell you how much I liked your work. Lovely detail you have here. Despite it's length I sat and read the entire thing. Way to capture the reader :)
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