The Soldier in the Canal
There was hardly any light, just a pale
shimmering on the water.
It was May, 1943.
I lived in a Jewish neighborhood
where, Saturdays, my neighbor Sarah
rode her bike up and down the street,
bouncing on the cobblestones.
Her mother Judit laid her jewelry
on the sidewalk, treasure for sale.
My husband was gone.
He was a soldier in the Dutch army.
I woke to a man shouting
in the middle of the night.
I put on my robe and went down to the street.
We lived at the crossing of two canals.
I found him there, a Nazi soldier,
barely a man, struggling in the water.
He was trying to grab the bricks
in the wall to pull himself up,
but there was nothing to hold on to.
He saw me and reached out his hand.
I stood for a minute remembering
my neighbors, their huddled silence
in the backs of open trucks.
I looked around.
There was no one watching.
I pulled my robe tight
and walked quickly back.
I got into bed and pulled the covers
over my head. After a while there was
silence, and though it shames me
to tell you this, I slept soundly.
For Sjan Freeling
I was seven months pregnant
when they came looking
for my husband. He slipped
out from under our sheets,
into the garden.
I wondered for a moment if the girls
next door would see my long-legged
husband in his underwear.
The SS officer sent each of his men
through the house. They were young,
a few years older than my son.
I held my belly,
focused on the movement
of elbow just below my ribcage,
the kick of agitation
against my cervix.
The youngest soldier
entered our bedroom,
checked the closet,
under the bed.
His officer called out to see
if anyone had found “that communist bastard.”
That’s when the soldier noticed
my husband’s pants,
draped neatly on a chair.
He looked toward the garden,
back at the pants and then at me
and my swollen belly. His eyes
were the green-brown of autumn moss.
He shouted to his officer,
“There is no one here, let’s go!”
Then he walked out and shut the door behind him.
I picked up the pants, hung them
in the closet and opened
the door to the garden.