Death keeps bumping into me as he walks past,
even though there’s room enough.
I took a poet today, he breathes
on one pass, and on another,
and a poet’s mother. I am orphaning
No matter how much room I make
for him, it is not enough.
I read once about a man in Auschwitz,
called to execution in the middle
of an orchestra rehearsal.
He was allowed to finish the piece
they were playing
before he was taken away.
A symphony, maybe.
Or Eine Kleine Nachtmusik?
That was a popular one.
It would have served
as a final flute of champagne.
I think of that man often,
imagine the notes he played
weaving themselves into fabric
that could hold them all together,
keep the world from shattering.
How many mistakes
fell at his feet like tears,
like tears, were brushed aside?
I tell Death this story.
Who won that day? I ask.
He has no eyes,
nothing to address
when I turn to him.
I have made music while he
was in the room.
He cannot touch anyone
while the notes vibrate.
This I keep to myself, cradled
in my arms.
The world is awash with fugitives.
Death’s hands are full of dust.
by Karen Bjork Kubin
Editor’s Note: The poignant stubbornness of this poem is resoundingly evident by the end, where the speaker resists quietly, but resolutely nonetheless.
Poet’s Note: “Rehearsals” is inspired in part by several anecdotes in Violins of Hope, by James A. Grymes. The line “The world is awash with fugitives” derives from a quote on p. 118: “’The Germans put barbed wire all around the camp so that no one will escape, but I just close my eyes and I’m on the other side of the wires,’ one of the prisoners would say. ‘They have no idea that we’re all fugitives.’” (And yes, there were orchestras in Auschwitz as well as in other Nazi concentration camps; they were made up of prisoners and used for entertainment, at roll-call, as new prisoners entered the camp, and as prisoners were sent to the gas chambers.)