Shomerim at Birkenau — by KB Ballantine

Shomerim* at Birkenau
*guardians or keepers of the dead

Tagged with the numbers scarred
on my grandmother’s arm, I step through
the open gate once barred against her.

Crass browns assail scarlet and gold,
the treasure of trees condemned to scatter
paths, to be raked and burned in piles.

North winds seize summer’s moisture, dawn
and dusk drier, colder. Sky crouches closer,
buildings lean in, cling to earth.

A fly frisks my face, lone reminder of the swarms
these fields once fueled. Concrete walls chill
afternoon heat, tourists bumping the tight spaces.

Blackened ovens crumble into dirt,
rust staining ash. Voices from the past
and present mingle, whisper together the Kaddish.

KB Ballentine

KB Ballentine's work appears in River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the Twenty-first Century (2015), Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI:Tennessee (2013) and Southern Light: Twelve Contemporary Southern Poets (2011). Her third collection, What Comes of Waiting, won the 2013 Blue Light Press Book Award.

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