November 23, 2019

A Poem by Dan Pagis

Written in Pencil in the Sealed Boxcar

here in this carload
i am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him that i

                              Inscribed on a slab at the Belzec death camp memorial in Poland

This poem is itself a sealed boxcar with no escape.  The poem is not a metaphor but an enactment, placing the reader inside the boxcar along with Abel and along with Eve, the mother of all humanity, who is going to be murdered but who is leaving a testimony, her words on the walls of this railroad car. It's a message written in pencil, which can be erased - just like the Jewish people during this time.

Why does the message break off?  We don't know. We want an answer and there is none, just as there is no meaning that can be derived from the experience described. There is no closure to this poem; there are no answers. It turns back on itself, endlessly repeating the first murder by Cain of Abel that underlies it all. That murder has not yet taken place because Abel still lives within the poem, but the murder is imminent, as are all the atrocities that will follow in history, culminating in this most unimaginable genocide.
"Poetry after Auschwitz," by Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner
Christian Century, November 20, 2019   p.29