In the shade on the grass
a writer’s telling the story of a man, no longer young or strong,
who carried a magnetic sound recorder,
a prototype developed in Chicago, weighing sixty pounds,
around the crowded DP camps
of Europe under Allied occupation, in the days
when millions were returning to the homes they thought they had,
and millions more were leaving, or were seeking those they’d lost.
The man recorded stories. And the writer
wrote the story of the man. Behind the writer, over there,
a palm has grown out horizontal from the grassy slope,
and, look, along the palm a little girl comes walking on her hands,
a slender golden girl. And now
I’m finding it’s becoming hard to know
whether I should watch the girl
or listen to the writer –
both of them require my full attention.
One woman whom the man recorded (so the writer says)
had given her only child, a daughter,
into the care and keeping of a true and trusted friend,
a childless woman, a good woman, to see her through the war. The girl
is turning cart-wheels now,
she’s tumbling, rolling down
the bank and shrieking, running up
and rolling down again. And what
became of her? – the daughter? What
became of her? For a year or so (the woman told the man)
it all went well – it seems my daughter flourished – she
was passed off as the daughter of my friend –
but, as her features found their definition,
her face recalled to villagers her Jewish father’s face,
and they reported her. You know
the only way that that could end.
I shall not see her in this life again. – Oh no, I want to say,
there must be some mistake – just see,
she’s there, the little girl, just see,
there on the palm tree, see, she’s dancing
and twirling and stretching up aloft her golden arms in the sun, just see,
and calling to her mother, Look at me!