When Otto told me about the Danish resistance smuggling
Jews to Sweden in fishing boat holds slippery with guts
how they wouldn’t take anyone who couldn’t follow
the dagger-eyed command for silence
no one with a cough, no babies
drawing German lights toward sound
I couldn’t get that out of my mind.
Every time I felt a sneeze coming on
I wondered if mortal fear could silence
the body or if I would be the one, wet
and foul with entrails, to send
our group to Theresienstadt.
This boat came fast and sudden, summoned, spectral.
The night my mother died the ferryman appeared
sweeping his long oar, his back to me, pulled
by a moon I couldn’t dislodge. I heard nothing
only saw. It came to my bed but rests
inside me, damp. No sea so permanent.
I still see it, fog-draped on cold nights
when the house creaks like a wooden
oarlock, the boat always leaving
a long way from waking.
People are always disappearing, little
warning and too many vacant rooms.
I don’t know why I’m here, not there
or if it matters beyond our brief urgencies.
To let so many people disappear
into a distant dark as if returning takes place
in another land, unfathomable to those
seeking rescue, wave-sloshed and shouting
above the din, safety close as the shoals.
I promised a third boat and it, too, has arrived
and disappeared. You’ll have to conjure it from
your own Lazarus-act of delivery.
It’s easy, like lifting the door of a hold
to shine a flashlight inside.