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Alice Friman: At the Gates

Paris in June and we are in love.

Delacroix, wine, late nights

at the Louvre. Liberté,

Égalité, Fraternité. And each

and every morning Camembert

and apricot confiture on a hunk

of good French bread—breakfast

in the park. A bench by the lilacs.


The park, Pour les Enfants—

a gated, safe place for little ones,

toddlers, chubby-legged preschoolers.

The sign said so.


Vive la France, we thought.


Funny how we never grew tired

watching them—digging in dirt,

spinning in place or herding ants

with a leaf. The pure concentration

it takes to be two years old: the gravity

of button holes, the trembling lip

and pride of holding fast

to one’s own red pail and scoop.


On our last morning we saw

the other sign erected in 1945.


The war over. The park

rededicated to les enfants

not permitted to enter these gates—

the yellow-starred ones who would

never come back. I see them

clinging to their mother’s skirts,

coveting the swings beyond the iron bars,

the just-their-size merry-go-round,

before le gendarme with the frown

and big stick threatens them away.



Add them up. The same ones,

six-thousand of them. Babies

ripped from their mothers, howling

in the brutal crush and bedlam

of Drancy—the internment camp

outside Paris, set up and organized

not by Germans but by the French.


Oh, that the tongues of lilac—

those silent witnesses–could speak

a different end to this story.


You, combing hair in the mirror

or engrossed in the evening news.

You, spearing asparagus, anticipating

the meat loaf, the fork shining

like your life, eager and balanced

in your hand. Can you not hear them,

frantic against the gates, whimpering

for their mothers? The big trains

warming on the tracks. What would

you give for your ongoing comfort

to not know what must have been said:


Shh, no crying. Mama’s waiting

at the end of this nice train ride.

She’ll be standing in front of another

set of gates, oiled to swing wide

and welcome you in. Up you go.

Copyright 2016 Alice Friman. First published in New Letters. Republished by permission of the author.


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This entry was posted on March 28, 2016 by in Poetry, Social Justice, War and Peace and tagged , , , .

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