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