Jedem Das Seine

The slogan on the gates of Buchenwald: “To each his own”

 

How well I know that photograph from childhood’s mantelpiece:

that line, innocent in its intent, shuffling past

a guy in a beret.  A boy squints upwards into the sun

and the young man who will become my Dad

 

half turns away to a friend behind

forever challenging our certainty it’s him.

Hard to imagine that our parents passed through such gates:

yet they are here, in a wholeness, and there

 

in his camp’s stripes, as if still

in the shadows of the last few days’ concealment.

The motionless instants behind the gate have only just begun

to meld into the sequence our present demands

 

that queue an arrow moving forward in tiny

fractions of time divisible by its possibilities.

From this vantage point — perhaps a tower? —

one can almost see back into the camp; but the gate

 

is a border: on that side, history’s

giant factories await the consignment of peoples;

people are an abstraction, fate’s barcode

a tattoo on their forearms.  On this side

 

peoples are an abstract surmise,

the opened gate making literal

that slogan’s behest; which, having faced

inward when the gate was closed, has become a lens

  

diffracting destiny into these young men’s lives

as the line begins to move

and they begin to drift, to reach, to land.

Perhaps as he moved out past the gate

 

past the jeeps and the outraged liberators

he noticed the plume from an April mist

rising from a nearby forest

of beech trees after which this place was named.

Newcastle Poetry Prize anthology 2011