Empire Erased

Issue TenIssue Ten PoetryPoetry

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by Magdalena Ball

It was over in an hour

a thousand people in an hour.


Who dared count the weary passengers 

disembarking cramped steerage (Zwischendeck)

lips cracked from sea salt.


Bribes, promises, as many illicit exchanges

as there were people, as there were dreams

not so much of something better, but of safety.

Someone has to survive to pass on the story.


They kept on moving, checkpoint to checkpoint

fingers probing hair (no lice), clothing (old, stiff)

cough, lean forward, raise arms, keep moving.


An empire was so easily erased, just like that. 

They would never go back.


There were people left behind of course 

in the ghettos of her youth, the shtetls

writing names in the air with a finger. 

She might have sent them a handful of prepaid tickets, 

if the streets really were paved with gold.


The words were cobblestones beneath her feet

thirty-one questions in a language she didnt speak:

name, age, sex, nationality, health, how much money 

was in her pocket, was she dangerous


At five feet tall with arms like matchsticks, hooded eyes 

concealing more pain than a malnourished body should 

be able to hold, how do you answer?


She had already begun to forget

her mothers wet eyes

her fathers hastily gathered bag of coins

sisters, cousins, uncles. Of course they existed 

somewhere, but who knows what happened to them

their sacrifices, their losses. 

Theyre gone. They were never there. 

Keep up the pace. 


She tried to speak but words didnt fit her mouth

there were no papers, only a brown tag pinned 

to the shoulder, containing a number 

like a price you might put on cattle. 

She wasnt for sale. 

Her number wasnt up this time.