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By Ellen Bass

100,000 people were murdered by the Nazis at Ponary,
10km southwest of Vilnius where my grandmother was born.

Today is gray, drizzling,
but not enough for drops to pool
on the tips of the silver needles
or soak the bark of the pines at Ponary—
some of them
more than a century old. Here, when
the trains wheeled on numb
rails. And before I have gone
ten feet into the forest, I hear the sound.
Of course. There would have to be a train.
But I hadn’t expected it still to run
like this, people
getting off and on with their packages.
I hadn’t thought of the scent of resin spilling
into the cold afternoon. The trees
step to the rim
of the pits where Jews were shot
so the bodies fell in
efficiently. Their branches could save
no one. They offered oxygen
to victims and executioners, the same.
They drank moisture,
blood, minerals.
Each year increasing another ring.

Added: Thursday, November 30, 2017  /  Previously in "Kenyon Review." Used with permission.
Ellen Bass
Photo by Irene Young.

Ellen Bass’s poetry includes Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014) which was nominated for five awards, The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), and Mules of Love (BOA, 2002). She co-edited, with Florence Howe, the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973). Her poetry has appeared frequently in The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, and many other journals. Among her awards are a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fellowship from the California Arts Council, three Pushcart Prizes, The Lambda Literary Award, The Pablo Neruda Prize, The Larry Levis Prize, and the New Letters Prize. Her nonfiction books include Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth and Their Allies, I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse which has been translated into twelve languages. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and teaches in the MFA writing program at Pacific University. Please, visit her website.

Ellen Bass is a Featured Poet for Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2018.

Other poems by this author