Oradour-sur-Glane is cut off from the rest
of France. Iron gates divert the N route
from Limoges that once took through a tram,
the telegraph, the casual commerce of a nation.
Nothing lives in its dry ruins now
but weeds. The grass is cut around the car
left by the doctor on the day he died and burned.
Rust has sculptured it, and before that fire.
On that June day in 1944,
4 days beyond the beginning of the end
in Normandy [not much before the RAF
were bombing Caen] the SS came to Oradour.
Their rank precision arranged the town much as
we see it now – the women in the church burned
with the kids, the men in barns, shot low
to bring them down, then sacrificed in flames.
The dead are known and numbered, their sufferings untold
have come to the same end – a common graveyard
and a mausoleum where their last possessions
and their ashes can be sampled under glass.
And still we tourists come. French, Dutch and
English number plates park outside the gates
[the Germans on their way to Spain no longer
stop in France] to share our European heritage.
It lives again this town – as if the polished
insulators and the wires still sang with local
orders, news of cousins in the rest of Limousin.
A people walk its streets. In shorts and tee shirts,
we pause to look at images of flame red bricks
behind the crumbled plaster; pots, pans and
Singers; a bicycle marooned upon a wall.
Wordless, I let my camera take it all.
Before us came the men in black, anonymous,
known only as “the nazis” on each plaque.
We take their steps, and leave no names behind,
like them. Their map too was Michelin, they had
their places they must do. Each fresh reprisal
marked a cross upon the way. Their own
journey to a death in France. About the suffering
they caused – I can neither take it in, nor write.
Words light on what those tourists left behind,
and what the French have kept alive – a sense,
the senselessness of mind, of what they did.
It happened here. It happens everywhere the same –
they’re lynching, burning, shooting, raping –
pinning on their grubby uniforms our human shame.
It does not matter in whose name. A chasm
opens up and all our hopes fall in.