Poetry from Bill Tope

 

Reap the Harvest

 


Emptiness.  Unfilled shelves and barren

cupboards stared back at me.  The win-

dows had been smashed in when they

couldn't get through the door.  Shards of

glass littered the muddy carpet.  Not a

trace of food was left and every precious

bottle of water taken; the tap hadn't work-

ed for months so we were left with literally

nothing. They even took my mother's

insulin.

 

The baby was crying, eager for the milk

that they had stolen.  At least they hadn't

harmed the small children, or the elders. 

My husband's arm was broken when he

resisted, but all in all our injuries were light. 

They could have killed us all.  And then

burned the house to the ground.  It's hap-

pened before.  However, they knew we would

get more provisions and that they could re-

turn at their own convenience.

 

Of course they raped me and my teenage

daughters, but they didn't kidnap one of

them.  Probably they were unwilling to share

their loot with captives.  Very prudent on their

part, I thought emptily.  They were a roving

gang of mostly young men and women, mar-

auding from town to town, one household to

the next, as if they were reaping a harvest:  of

food, money, medicine, anything they needed,

anything they wanted.  Then they left.

 

Next, I prayed aloud.  I asked God that none

of the women would become pregnant from the

assaults.  And that the children would overcome

the shock that the bewildering attack had caus-

ed them.  Had caused all of us.  And finally, I

prayed that for a change, the crops would grow

this year; that John could find work; that the

drought and the plague would be over and that

the wildfires and the war would end.  I prayed till

I was hoarse and had run out of breath.

 

It was a lot to ask for, a tall order, but after

all, what other recourse did we have?  The

government had been dysfunctional for

years and now distributed food and medicine

only twice a month.  Yes, I decided, if I were

a gambler, I'd have to bet not on politicians or

police or the warm heart of a stranger, but on

a higher power, so-called.

 

We had to wait three days before a doctor could

set John's arm.  We got more milk for the baby

but once again all our clothes hung a little looser

on us.  The new year is just four days away.  It'll

soon be 2028 and I truly believe that it will be a

better year all around.  It must be.  After all, it is

an election year.
 

 

 

 

Adah and Me

 

I was wakened by the touch

of Adah's small hand on my

shoulder. She whispered,

"Miriam, the rockets are

falling again."

 

I sat up, to find the stone walls

shuddering, wondering how I had

slept through the bombardment.

One can perhaps get used to

anything, I suppose.

 

The Israelis told us to go

south, but my grandmother

couldn't walk and we couldn't

find anyone to help us, so

we stayed with her. Last

week, Jida was killed in a

missile strike, so Adah and

I are alone now.

 

I don't know where the

rest of my family is. My

parents and my two

brothers. There's just

Adah, six years old, and

me. I'm thirteen -- just

today!

 

It's amazing how you

can forget what's

ordinarily so important

to you. There won't be

a party.

 

There's little clean water

and almost no food. The

nahibs have taken

everything. I don't

understand; they are

Palestinians like us -- but

not like us, I suppose.

 

I want to take Adah and

go back home. But, there

is no home remaining.

Just the rubble.

 

 

 

 

I Held My Breath

 

 

We had been crowded into a low-ceilinged

room the size of a small church.   Cement

walls and floor.   The soldiers had confis-

cated all our clothes, our shoes, what jewel-

ry and personal effects that had remained

with us.  Most of it had long ago been

bartered away for food or clean water or

other privileges scarce in the compound.

 

We were completely naked:  the men, the

women, even the little children.  Our heads

had been shaved.  Rumor had it that the

Huns stuffed their pillows and mattresses

with our hair.

 

The room was entirely vacant but for the

human bodies; our pale white flesh was the

color of a fish’s belly, and we were stuffed

into the room like oysters into a turkey.

 

We had all been shipped to the death

camp--Todeslager--like cattle to the

slaughter, in box cars, with no food or

water.  With scarcely enough room

to breathe.  Once or twice a plane flying

overhead had strafed the train with

machinegun fire.  Perhaps our own

brave pilots.

 

There were no youths or middle aged men

and women; they had all been absorbed into

the vast slave labor network the Huns oper-

ated.  Only the crippled, the maimed, the

feeble and the old, like myself, were here,

save for the very young, who weren’t hardy

enough for slave labor.

 

We were in Treblinka.  It was June, 1943

and the rumor was that the camp would

be closed soon.  We had no room to lay or

sit or even turn around.  We were like the

kippers that were packed in oil or mustard

and that the inmates in labor camps--the

Arbeitslager--got from the Red Cross.  At

Treblinka we never received our kippers.

There were nothing but rumors flying

throughout the compound:  I had heard it

said that the German women made lamp

shades with our skin.

 

Some of the old men stared up at an aperture

in the ceiling, about a foot and a half over our

heads.  That, they said, was where the Ger-

mans would deposit the Zyklon B, the poison

they would gas us with.  The Commandant,

addressing the prisoners some time ago, had

bragged that superior German industry had

created many wonderful things.  This was per-

haps the example he had in mind when he

said that.  He had seemed very proud.

 

One of the younger of the men had been a

helper, removing the bodies from the chamber

after the gas had dissipated.  After everyone

was dead.  He told us all about how it worked. 

The poison--prussic acid--he said, worked fast. 

There would be a rattling over our heads, in the

chute that the poison was fed into.  Someone,

he said with a grotesque grin, always tried to

keep the pellet from descending.  But fall it

always did.  For his labors he had received

an extra crust of Brot.

 

We waited.  And waited.  Suddenly there was a

clattering overhead, in the chute.  The pellet of

Zyklon B was descending.  A tall man, as if act-

ing a part in a movie, attempted to prevent the

pellet from falling, where it would crack open and

then dissipate in a cloud of murderous vapor. 

His hand slipped.  Suddenly, a large white pellet

crashed to the floor, burst open and a deadly,

diaphanous cloud rose up.  A woman cried out.

The lethal “showers” had begun.  I held my

breath.

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