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Two Poems

by Itai Thaler, 2022 Law Fellow

The Guide at Wannsee

says “there’s no such thing as Jewish blood.”
I’d quibble, but I’m stuck on the boats
outside the conference room window. White sails crisp
like pressed napkins on a glass table—picture book setting
for small talk logistics, Monopoly piece
haggling. Had anyone else caught themselves bored,
staring out that window?

The guide says we know they served brunch after.
German fare? Blutwurst
and hearty ryes. Or maybe a bit more
aspirational: French croissants,
good sturgeon caviar. Did anyone else’s stomach rumble?

Yesterday I sat in a cafeteria
where they invented hell and I swear to God I was
hungry. Call it blood betrayal or life affirmation & He Did Not Win. But really,
I had just
skipped breakfast—because I have my grandmother’s
stomach and we had had a long bus ride.

The guide at Wannsee doesn’t seem to know
that every cell in my body is marked.
Blood on the doorpost; nose like a 6.
Sciatic nerve strain
from wrestling angels. Each fiber
folded. Each double helix
threaded with light blue.

Two Days at the Museum

I tell my boss I’m back from Poland, he asks—
did you visit the museum? There are hundreds. Of tolerance?
Of Galician Jewry? I ask which. The punchline: he
meant the camps.

I visited the museum.
I can throw my gin and tonic in his face.
I can tell him off, or run.
Instead I do what Jeff tells me and
afford grace. Sure, history behind
glass—a place to visit and leave, look at all
the neat exhibits. Yes,
I visited the museum:

At the museum everyone
buys a ticket. At the museum they have tour guides,
audio devices. Outside the museum they have metal detectors,
although I don’t ask why.

At the museum they have artwork—portraits. Rows
and rows. More portraits
than any museum you will ever go to. The style is simple—
the artists staged the models looking through you.

At the museum they play a film on loop,
a montage of life before the Museum. Choreographed
swimming. Children dancing. All moving in that stop-motion,
Charlie Chaplin sort of way. The movie is scored simply,
pianos chiming. The music is effective.

At the museum there are ruins. Bricks and rubble, archeology.
They’ve reconstructed what the buildings
might have looked like then. You imagine walking
through them. The museum tells you not to touch.

They let every country curate a wing. In one,
there is a sheet of paper as tall as I am
with my name on it one hundred times. Inside the museum
I took my sandals off—to feel
that same grass;
or because I stood on holy ground. The museum

does not allow souvenirs. But I’ll keep
the feel of grass. I’ll keep the list
that stood to my shoulders. I’ll keep the film
looping behind my eyelids.
The children will dance infinitely.

Itai Thaler was a 2022 FASPE Law Fellow. He is a law clerk at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, and Katz.