It was in the spring of 1944, during the delousing
of the Gypsy barracks in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp

skirts scarves
withered in the delousing room
all in protective colors

in poppies in buttercups in daisies
in case of a meadow
that wasn’t going to appear

a Gypsy in the bathhouse of birkenau
stripped of colors
with a clenched fist
in long folds of water

hid in her palm
a grain of life
a seed of escape
between the life line
and the heart line
at the crossroads
of chiromancy

concealed in her cupped hand
the last louse
which always leaves

when death arrives
the Gypsy was singing
in the bathhouse of birkenau

holy louse
don’t leave me

holy louse
don’t leave me

I will not let you go
I have only you
god doesn’t come down to hell

your sisters leave
our dead
stay with me
save me
holy louse

a guard ran up with a whip
pried open her fingers
What have you got there thief show me
this diamond
this coin this gold

And down it fell the louse
and down it fell the star

The empty hand remained
and the empty sky
And into it came
smoke after smoke
smoke after smoke


Translated from the Polish by Jennifer Grotz and Piotr Sommer

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

To experience the full archive, log in or subscribe now.

Related Poetry

The Age of Loss


Richard Spilman

Portrait of the Psalmist as Ultra-Singer


Michael Symmons Roberts

overlook of rooftops in Jerusalem in 1940.

The New Jerusalem


Franz Wright

Poem in July


Carrie Fountain

Pin It on Pinterest