Judith Kingston is a Dutch poet living in the UK. A teacher, translator and expert procrastinator, Judith writes best when she's meant to be doing something else. Her work has appeared in Barren Magazine, Fevers of the Mind, Twist in Time, Kissing Dynamite and Sledgehammer Lit. She's also had poems featutred in Persona Non Grata and Crossing Lines: An Anthology of Immigrant Poetry. Judith's micro-chap Mother is the Name for God appeared in summer 2020.
Holocaust Memorial Day
I'm asked to take off all my clothes
in a cubicle and put on a thin robe.
I awkwardly shed my layers, elbows knocking the walls,
stuff everything in a locker.
The door won’t shut.
I push it shut – it opens – I push it shut.
I give the tiny key and my glasses to the radiologist and walk
blind to the trolley lined with foam.
Mostly naked, they slide me into the machine.
I am not sick – I feel sick – I am not sick.
I am in this small chamber.
It is just me here with this
genetic timebomb, this potential
for destruction, this uncertainty.
Without a Jewish mother you are not a Jew.
We escaped Auschwitz but carry this,
we carry so much
I am alive – I am dead – I am alive.
I am rolled back out, unplugged,
re-robed, my glasses, I can see,
the key, the locker, my clothes,
a tiny plaster–
A letter: everything is fine
I am fine – I am not fine – I am fine.
Anne Frank House
In which I discover many years later that I never did read
my great-grandparents' names in the book of Jews
killed in concentration camps
I came to put my hand on the book.
I paid my entry fee and walked around,
mainly to turn to that page and look
at my name in a long list of names
of Jews that Hitler put in the ground.
Memory betrays you though, and later I found
that no one had said that they were dead –
they went but did not rot in that mound
of nameless corpses; they returned on the train,
shedding 'victim' and becoming survivors instead.
I don't know what went wrong in my head:
was the book about those deported, not killed,
or did my eyes read things that were not really there?
Whatever that book says: they were not spared.
Their Theresienstadt graves were never filled,
but there is more than one way of ending up dead.
At the end of the war he did not look good,
I have to tell you.
People gave him the side eye on the train –
the regular train now, with seats and suits
and luggage racks.
No meat on his bones, no papers, no passport,
no stories, no tears,
everything wrung out of him, desiccated, condensed,
he had nothing but the will to live, to make it back
to where he was known.
Commuters hugged their bags and children closer,
looking at the way his skeleton peered through
translucent skin, worried
they might catch his wasting, or his fleas, worried
he might want things that were theirs.
He was my father’s uncle dressed in the skin of a ghost,
his wit muffled under the layers of horror, dulled
by the headstones that were never placed on
graves. Later, he would tell stories, but not now.
Whenever I saw him he wore a suit – his own, but
under his clothes lurked the bleached bones that
rattled in time with the train he was still on, which
could not take him from that place he never left.