Handbook of Suffering – Lesson 2

Lesson 2:  At the Anne Frank Exhibit

Two girls, bright cheeked, glossy-haired, full
bodied, so unlike Anne in those last
head-shaven, typhoid Bergen-Belsen days,
so like Anne as she once longed to be,

two girls call out to Holocaust Survivor,
Ibby Schreiber, Your numbers–can we see
the marks?  Those numbers!
On your arm?

I stiffen, go still inside.
But Ibby, looking up from a book
of Rescue and Remembrance.
smiles, My numbers.  Certainly. 

Her left sleeve’s  unbuttoned,
rolled up a little, already. All morning
she’s been talking to students
rolling up that sleeve.

She moves past me, toward the girls.
With grave delicacy, lifts her arm,
pushes the cloth up the slender length,
rotating to let them see, pale blue as submerged
veins, a row of numbers inked into her skin.

The girls stare.  One grimaces.  One blurts
a little laugh.  That number,
it’s so big!  Is that how the Nazis
counted you?  Yes, says Ibby,
There were a lot of us.

The girls pulled into sunshine by scolding
teachers worried about schedules
have no time for further questions.
Ibby rolls down her sleeve, smiles at me,
shakes her head.  They don’t realize. 
We were many more than this number.
Forgiving them.  So many more!

They just don’t know.
Is this forgiveness the gift
the victims must extend
to those of us who come after,
if we are to learn the next
lesson in the Handbook of Suffering?

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