Requiem for Oma Berta

It’s not the absence of your lavender
scent or lack of your voice calling me
in German or your old woman’s wrinkles
not therefor my finger’s trace, it’s not that
all there is
is the official record: resident
of Heinsheim, widow
of Abraham, mother of Isaak.

It’s not that they took you from the house
you came to as a bride fifty-five years ago,
took you far from Abraham’s grave, took
house, goods, the family acres, took also
Fredericke, your daughter, two years after
she stood on the train platform waving
her handkerchief, smiling a little
for Inge and Siegfried as they leaned
— not waving, from the children’s
transport en route to London.

It’s not that you shivered
in Gurs, in the damp air of the Pyrennees
that first chill October; it’s not that
your hip broken, nursed in a convent, you
missed the bribed rescue to Switzerland;
it’s not that your gray hair slant pinned
in a bun, swirling blue polka-dot apron
over long black dress freeze into
one figure in one photo; not that you have
no grave. Oma, for me

you are terrible. For years I did not think
of your 1,390 days in the mud-floor barracks
for 60 women, daily cabbage leaf floating in
foul water, bread too hard
for false teeth nor your 1,390 nights under
one frayed blanket, bugs devouring you. Oma,
others dying or killing themselves, what kept
you alive after they loaded you
into a cattle truck in the last of France’s
331 convoys, 77 in 1944, 32 in July, one month
short of eighty years old? Then for three days
jammed into the cattle train,
did you pray to die?

On the third of August I light
no candle for you, no candle in memory of
Berta Kahn Ottenhimer.
Oma, behind our house in the gazebo cooled
by grape leaves, the lemonade you poured
for our garden thirst
from the gray and blue earthen pitcher
flowed over the beading glass
into the small hollow of the white saucer.

Anneliese Wagner has published too books of poetry, Fish Magic (Redding Ridge CT: Black Swan,1989) and Hand Work (Upper Montclair, NJ: Saturday Press, 1983