Finding a voice - creative writing for women (text graphic)

an extract from Auschwitz


Book cover image for AuschwitzLook, here I am at Auschwitz. Here now but after the event, this can only ever be after the event. Look, here I am already. Already collecting. My head to the ground, En’s laughing at me chasing a small grey feather for Moinous, digging in the path for some small stones some clue, yes, here I am already collecting small mementoes for Moinous as I said I would, asking myself if as a child I was short-changed on tragedy. Instead I came here mixed up with mission to please. Say please. Please find me something to say. Carrying my notebook, thinking I will write something down, find a quiet corner. En telling me this is where he left the stones last year, yes, last year, look, almost a year to the day he came here with his mother Elise. This is where I left the stones, he’s saying, the ones you gave me to bring here, to leave here. And he’s pointing and I find myself bending down just beside the gate – beneath the – Work Shall Set You Free – we look into the line of stone separating the electric fences. And I touch the fence because I know I can, the children make a gesture to copy me, but don’t complete it. I touch the wire again to show them it’s okay, but none the less tentatively. I cannot lie. I do lie. I am not confident in anything here. Despite En’s enthusiastic pointing I do not recognise the stones.

I collected small things for you, that’s all I’ll write to Moinous from here, of course I will, not here, I’ll write later, I wrote later, from a small internet café. I collected small souvenirs for you from here. I collected small flowers – I’m crushing them, crushing out the water to keep them alive. I crush water with water. The weight of a gallon water bottle dries the flowers – a feather, not crushed, stroked, nothing more unusual than a common pigeon’s … Bark from the ash tree, nothing much but as you know there is nothing here. And whoever thought of planting an ash tree outside a crematorium?

There’s a man over there, he’s sitting in Auschwitz on the grass, close by, and he’s telling someone that he’s hoping to find the perfect line. He’s saying, I am writing hoping to find the perfect line. I can hear the sound of pens scratching across paper, other people are writing out their lines and I am the only one who is not writing anything down. Not copying, drawing, photographing, videoing. Yes, among them I can hear a man say, I haven’t found my line yet, but when I find it I will know it instantly, when it comes, my line, I’ll know it for sure.

I am sitting with one of my sons and it’s so hot and I carry handsome paper, the weave of rag still visible on the page. I carry what I can, paper, pen, water, children. I spend four or five hours here trying to write, too ashamed to write here. In the time we are here all I do is learn to spell the word Auschwitz, I sit on a stone step with nothing to write but I at least learn how to spell the name, the name that was changed from its Polish Oswiecim. The name that refused to burn when it should be misspelled, Moinous will say: it should be misspelled every time, it’s an irritation to spell it, to remember how to spell it correctly.

Asking: what would you carry here apart from stones and cameras and empty books, the promise of words, what to bring here to this place if I could carry more? An offering of straw, I’ll huff and I’ll puff … A huge hunger and absence and a book to come, dear book. Each book, he said – I can’t recall who said what now, but some such writer or other had said that – each book contains a clock. Yes, the book – and maybe he should have said – the writer too. To begin it was a second heart, a second hand I held or held me trembling. The words racing to get out, pulsating, eager to get something down, vulnerable beat. Then the clock kept its own time, time I don’t yet know how to listen to here in Auschwitz, time I don’t know how to fill, time to still, time for the second hand to find the quiet steady midpoint of the other, to linger over minutes to write between sixty seconds, hours, sixty years gone by when I didn’t want the burden of time between us. But I see that writing is patience, writing is love, writing is fearlessness, to make yourself partially deaf to the doubt that whispers: STOP. The clock here stops. The voice laughs out loud. Mocks. Still. All the time stilled in Auschwitz. Still in parts, the words, parts of word, lines scattered. Do you sometimes feel you are working in reverse? She said, sometimes I feel all the books I will ever write are already written and the last will be the first. All the books will make one book, all the marks become one tick, one enormous unpunctuated breathless line all translated with that final first book.