Michael Daley

The Two Young Men From Japan

To be in possession of an absolute truth is to have a net of
familiarity spread over the whole of eternity.
—Eric Hoffer

“Orb Weavers have hooped a white gauze across sixty acres,”
a winter’s worth snag of less patient species, a community,
the historic web by dawn radiant in the east
snares the setting sun.
I read it in the paper someone left at the cafeteria.
The door wheezes behind me as I step back into Poland,
to see the name “Oswiecim” is liberating
for its pure municipal indifference.

The two young men from Japan are still laughing at the bus shelter.
They know me by my trudge, mud falling away,
head bowed under the ice of Auschwitz;
my boots announce to the gravel
a reverent tourist unlike them, giggling in a storm.
They await the bus to Krakow.
I always remember them,
have often wished I’d shrugged off
a silence my mind found
in the hours since losing my guide
when I wandered the death camp,
acres of chimneys in the cold.
“Oh, you’re from Seattle?”
Strange to hear home sound so foreign.
“Ichiro!” We laugh. We talk a little baseball.
How happy we are safe beyond history.
We laugh at anything—
old shoes suitcases spectacles dolls in mounds
indignant faces on our zlotys bus fare—that’s funny.
Embarrassed by the length of an English sentence:
“We… Are…Touring … Camps, All the Camps.”
Modest laughter
More camps than mine, my list only this.
“Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Buchenau.” Wan smile.
They have traveled three months, both born in Nagasaki.

Parkas in cold Polish twilight,
we made our getaway from Auschwitz laughing.
My bus window black with February,
I scribbled in my notebook, grim and private.
They went on back there, they cackled all along the route,
their choppy map a line of stations on whose sleepers
they never slept, those intoxicated laughers
sprung from turf slabbed by monuments to the frisky dead.
I can’t forget them, how happy they were.
Perhaps it bothers me—why I write this now—
to hear them laugh again, to know
they never came to an end of camps,
I wasn’t the only pilgrim on the bus.

 

 

Michael Daley was born in Boston and lives in Anacortes. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and has an MFA from the University of Washington. In 1983 he published his first collection of poetry, The Straits. His chapbooks include Angels, Original Sin, Horace: Eleven Odes, The Corn Maiden, and Rosehip Plum Cherry. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Hudson Review, Alaskan Quarterly Review, Raven Chronicles, Seattle Review, on the Writer’s Almanac and forthcoming in The North American Review. In 2007 he published Way Out There: Lyrical Essays. In 2008 To Curve came out and in early 2010 Moonlight in the Redemptive Forest with a CD of poems and music arranged and performed by Brad Killion. “The Two Young Men From Japan” is from Moonlight in the Redemptive Forest.


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