The Numbers

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The numbers make no sense. We have to start
with one. One Jew. One Communist. One Pole
or homosexual or gypsy or sick
or physically or mentally challenged citizen.
Or sometimes two, as in the case of twins
subjected to experiments no sane
experimenter could conceive. And then
the numbers begin to multiply: Jehovah
Witnesses, political dissenters,
every one who got in the way of a Nazi,
the Nazis being, of course, everywhere.

Sure, we’ve tried to add the numbers up
but always someone is missing, the infant slung
against an electric fence, the child who walked
away from a forced march but died of the cold
in a barn or field. You try adding them up.

We cannot.

And what about the hard-working prostitute
who struggled to protect her daughter from
the men who’d stroke her fine-haired arm or pat
her on the head and run their hands farther
down her still-flat chest? The girl was eight.

We have to start with that one. Anyone.
Anyone and everyone, remembering
that someone is always among the many missing.