In memory of Ruth Buczyńska

She survived the war in Tarnopol. In darkness and semi-darkness. In fear.
She was afraid of rats and heavy boots, loud conversations, screams.
She died just now, in darkness, in a hospital ward’s white quiet.
She was a Jew. Sometimes she didn’t know what it meant.
It’s simple and incomprehensible, like algebra.
At times she tried to work it through. The Gestapo knew exactly what it meant
to be a Jew. The great philosophical tradition helped,
definitions sharp as knives, direct as a Buddhist arrow.
She was beautiful. She should have died then, like the other men and women,
vanished without a trace, gone without elegies, like so many others,
like the air, but she lived a long time, in daylight, in the sun,
in the daily air, the oxygen of ordinary Kraków.
Sometimes she couldn’t understand what beauty meant.
The mirror kept still, it didn’t know the philosophical definitions.
She didn’t forget those other times, but rarely
spoke of them. Once only she told this story:
her beloved cat wouldn’t stay put in the ghetto, twice
it slipped back to the Aryan side at night. Her cat
didn’t know who Jews were, what the Aryan side meant.
It didn’t know, so it shot to the other side like an arrow.
Ruth was a lawyer and defended others. Maybe that was why she lived so long.
Because there are so many others, and they need defending.
Prosecutors multiply like flies, but the defenders are few.
She was a good person. She had a soul. We know what it means.