From a Poland Train

The stench of our train in the darkness.
An angry fire consumes poor coal,
the needles shake and shiver, steam
escapes from worn out valves. We are
delivering, but are no express. I wipe
a gauge: a tear of condensation offends
a tidy footplate. The fireman, who, thanks
to war and careless rostering, I do not
know, leans back, resites his cap.
A tender moment, shovel propped.
His throat is full. Expertly, he rolls
the blackened phlegm and spits
it to the night, then checks the firebox.
Momentarily transfixed, the burst
of light records a figure trapped in hell,
then vanishes with a clang of steel.
On time, I utter. The watch that was
My father’s put away. No matter what
the load, the line’s end, or how long
the wait while other transports clear
the ramp, we will be there as scheduled.
Jews! I hear my father’s voice again, the
pounded Sunday fist, the engineer’s skilled
hand bunched in hatred of a race that killed
his Lord. We have them now. Their stench
is what we trail across this land.
Justice. My father’s hand was hard
enough to beat his sinless sons as well.
We take on water, at some Polish halt
that only needs a decent German name
to make it whole again. I  listen to the
boxcars’ groans, the slow and mournful
songs, the pleas for what I cannot understand.
I thank God I am no sentimental woman,
for you too would weaken at the thought
Of what we do, that must be done.
We do not linger. This final night will take
them to the ramp beyond the arch. Then peace
for them, and rest for us. I’d get this ancient train to
give more speed, and help them on their way
if it was not too old, and only fit for scrap.
We are not cruel. It is for all the best.
This ends in morning, for a world they helped
to make, and which now demands a final sacrifice.

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