November 2008

The sand and gravel cling to our shoes—
sand, gravel, dust and ashes.
The spirits of the dead haunt the exhibits:
two tons of hair, with clothing and rugs woven from it;
thousands of eyeglass frames; photos and books of all kinds;
hundreds of braces and artificial limbs;
shoes in all sizes; children’s clothing and toys;
suitcases neatly labeled with names and addresses.

It is a museum now, beautifully kept, carefully tended.
A historian takes us from block to block:
each tells a story of suffering and death.
Death by disease and starvation,
death by terror and torture.
The sand, gravel, dust and ashes cling to our shoes
as we move silently through the camp.
No words can do justice to the horror of this place.

The first gas chamber and crematorium were too small
to dispose of the requisite number of bodies efficiently,
so they created Birkenau—the same slogan,
“Arbeit macht frei,” emblazoned on the entrance.
The death machines there are gone—blown up
when the camp was liberated at the war’s end,
but the rows of barracks, wooden and brick, still stand,
proclaiming the hundreds of thousands
who passed through here on their way to death.

The train tracks lead nowhere.  Those chosen
fresh off the transports in the first selection
went straight to the gas chambers, where Zyklon B
guaranteed that their last living moments
would overflow with fear and despair.
Then, their bodies picked clean, they traveled
to the ovens and up through the chimneys,
where the soot and ashes—all that was left—
drifted down to the ground and turned to dust.

The grass is very green here.
The sand, gravel, dust and ashes cling to our shoes
as we stand in awe at this scene of infinite cruelty.
The spirits of the dead hover around us;
they whisper: Remember, remember.
Despite our grief and mourning, despite our tears,
we are grateful to have come to this place.
We and our shoes will bear witness,
as the shoes of all who come here
carry Auschwitz to the ends of the earth.

©1999 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf


In spring, in the heart of Andalucia,
the air is heavy with citrus scents;
oranges and lemons grow everywhere,
and throughout the verdant plains
carefully tended olive and almond trees
dapple green and grey in the lifegiving sun.

Last week in the provincial capital
penitents masked in hooded white robes
walked in the Holy Week processions,
while others shouldered the looming statues
of saints, freed from their parish altars
and lovingly adorned for the parades.

On Sunday, the town celebrates the Resurrection
with the first bullfights of the season.
We walk for miles along the alamedas,
breathing in the orange and lemon smells
in the waning of the sultry afternoon.
Every street leads to the Plaza del Toros.

Inside, in the city’s famous arena,
the band plays the traditional music
while the stadium seats fill with the crowd.
Children of six or seven have sweets and sodas,
and add to the fruity citrus-scented air
the smells of canned orange and lemon fizzes.

This procession, too, is a celebration.
The matadors and bandilleros in rich colors
and the picadores on their drably padded horses
parade to great cheers around the bullring.
Each takes his place safely behind the barriers
and the festivities are allowed to begin.

There will be six bullfights this afternoon.
Each is a drama in three acts–no intermissions–
with the band announcing the change of script.
Each of the three matadors will perform twice,
and the outcome of each performance is certain.
The crowd awaits the sacrifice with reverence.

At last the play begins.  A huge black bull
storms into the arena and halts, uncertain.
For the next half-hour he will be toyed with–
pricked with the thorns of darts and lances
and lured into rushing at empty purple capes
until his strength and will to fight are gone.

He has not played this game before, nor will again;
but the men are old hands–the ritual is ancient.
The bull will do his best to make the torment end,
and finally, worn out by futility, draggled and bleeding,
he will stand still and silent in the arena,
calmly awaiting the death he has come to crave.

©1989 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf

Some of Dubya’s friends report
He pounds his chest and shouts
“I’m the President!  I’m the President!”
His friends are very worried.

He who rejects evolution
Is rapidly evolving backwards.
Our cousins the chimps are worried, too.
They don’t want him either.

©2007 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf

Prowling through the tall grass
in the unmowed backyard of memory,
the silent ghosts of cats
stalk the unwary bird and mouse;
pounce on the occasional rabbit.

Mangled tails of squirrels
appear on the porch now and then:
the remains of spectral offerings
from all the generations
of our lost household gods.

©1995 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf