The Orchestra by Bob Bradshaw

The Orchestra

We played
for a bit of extra food,
for extra blankets
—thin as scarves—

and to lose ourselves,
like lifeboats adrift in mists,
rowing our bows
across our strings.

Sometimes we played
when new arrivals
were escorted by guards
to the gas chambers.

As I bowed I imagined
the children, mothers, old men
inside, turning, staring—
bewildered
by the shower’s blank walls.

What could a prisoner
working inside the crematorium do
afterwards but hook their bodies
with poles,
and drag them to the lift
where they were hoisted
to the furnaces?

If they were lucky a stoker
would utter a Kaddish
before pushing them into the flames,
their smudges of ash
dirtying the empty
sky.

All while our music played,
not the lively pace
of music dispensed
when work details
marched in and out of camp

but songs played as beautifully
as we could muster,
the last sounds they might hear.
At times, despite the risk
a trumpet would erupt
into sobs, a violin
weep.

by Bob Bradshaw

Editor’s Note: The tragedy of this particular poem gives weight to the grief that is evident with every line. The plethora of art that continues to pile up in the collective history from this human disaster is a tragic statement all in itself.