Land Memory

by Sonja Swift

A Polish friend once told me
grass so green so green so eerie
I used to drink black coffee and smoke Prince cigarettes
with my Danish grandmother while she swatted at flies
the way my mom used to shoot Squirt cans with her pistol: on target
Mormor fed Nazis in her farmhouse
Ran messages to the resistance
I see her carrying hand-written notes pressed into the folds of white linen
spitting in gravy, serving soldiers with a smile
Rain storms, one after the other, turn copper serpentine, oxidize metal
In the Northwest Territories they’re digging for diamonds
Same South African via London family who’ve gutted the Kalahari: DeBeers DeBeers DeBeers
Shell Oil started out killing bowheads off the coast of Svalbard, island of polar bears
where red-orange lichen grows a strange incandescence
Bowhead whales avoid old mating grounds
They live over two hundred years
They still remember genocide
Where their iron blood was spilled and blubber boiled for lamp oil
(beginnings of the oil industry)
lichen the color of rust remains
Auschwitz, I went there once
Rode the train from the city of Krakow with its stone cellar taverns
smell of tobacco and hot spiced wine strong warm
midwinter medicine to cut the edge off gunmetal cold
Winter in Poland is overcast
Long dank months and denim sky that wash over the moon entire
I went to Auschwitz one day alone, bought a salted pretzel from a stoic vendor
watched pastures wash by, ghostly frames of terrain through a fogged windowpane
I walked through quicksilver haunting
Entered gas chambers, barracks, kicked pebbles in cold dirt paths
gridded pastures fenced in by the color slate,
by opaque perversion
There was no lichen the color of rust to remember death by
No grass so green so green so green

Sonja Swift writes toward a place of understanding both of herself and of our world. She has publications in Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, Chrysalis Journal, Langscape magazine, Rock & Sling journal, and a chapbook of prose poems called “Alphabet Atlas” published by Deconstructed Artichoke Press. She calls home both San Francisco, California and the Black Hills, South Dakota.

Photo by: Ana Prundaru