Tosha – a poem inspired by Art Spiegelman’s MAUS

It’s the last of her prized possessions:
a plate her grandmother gave to her as a wedding gift.
Her water-wrinkled fingers trace the red lacework around the edges.
She almost smiles.
A staccato of shots rings out through the brick corridors of houses
and in through the kitchen window.
Her hands freeze mid-scrub.
There is screaming in the streets.
Black coats and gold stars rush from the sound of death.
“What’s happening?” she yells to a friend.
“We’re to report to the square immediately for relocation—to Auschwitz!
Tosha… I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you, but
they’ve killed the council of elders.”
The words break over her like a crushing wave
of frigid water, pounding the air from her lungs.
She doesn’t see the friend go.
“Persis,” she whispers,
the hair on the back of her neck standing up.
Only when the runner makes the announcement to her neighbor does Tosha begin to shake.
“They’re sending all of us to Auschwitz!”
Her skin is cold with sweat.
Out of habit she scrubs the dish
and rinses it with tears.
They had hoped it would never come to this;
that’s why they’d agreed to take the children.
They had a better chance here
under the protection of her husband in the council.
Now, the council had been liquidated,
and the rest of the ghetto was next in line.
A picture seized her mind.
A great black oven with red hatch eyes mocks her,
and a glowing, grated grin opens,
the tongue extending and rolling the children—
God, her children!—
into the flames.
She tries to put the plate away,
but then the oven chews them with its fiery teeth,
and the screams…
The plate shatters onto the floor.
The game in the other room ends abruptly;
little feet patter on hard wood;
little eyes find her kneeling on the broken fragments.
“An Tosha, you’we bweeding!”
Yes, they had hoped this day would never come,
but they had planned for it nonetheless.
Her fingers clutch the vial hung around her neck.
“Awe you otay, Antie?”
She doesn’t want to frighten them,
but she won’t let the monsters eat her children—
no matter what.
She looks at each of them,
“Yes, sweethearts,
Auntie just needs to take her medicine.
Would you like to try some?”
“Can we hab shugaw wif it?”
She blinks back the tears and forces a sad smile.
“Of course, darlings.”
They each take their teaspoon,
and the Gestapo find their bodies the next day.