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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 362-364

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(Killian's Story)

Cyrus Cassells

I entered the gate at Dachau,
totally green, untutored,
and, as if by the fury
of my own tank,
my soul was flattened
by a sea of shaven heads, alive
skeletons in stripes, corpses
stockpiled helter-skelter.
In that mindboggling, shattering
negative of Eden,
I was alternately
irate, in tears, or triumphant
to be a liberator
of the astonishing sufferers
who applauded and greeted me
behind barbed wire—
God forgive us
for our blunder,
but some of the battalion
gave the inmates food—
anathema to those
so deeply starved—
and they died before us,
As a colored man,
a second-class citizen,
I was quick to link
the calamity I witnessed
and the lynch-mob terror
and everyday maltreatment
back home: [End Page 362]
if they can do this
to each other,
what won't they do to you?—
We were ordered away
from Dachau
none too soon,
and the much-decorated Nisei
regiment finished the job,
but were compelled,
under the pain of court-martial,
never to disclose their part
in liberating the camp.
My friend Takayoshi "T.J." Uno
was one of the unit.
He unfastened the blindfold
of a woman on the verge
of being shot by the panicked,
retreating Nazis.
She spotted Uno and figured
he was one of the Allied Japanese.
She screamed.
She hollered and pleaded.
After much commotion,
T.J. fell to his knees, and cried:
Please, I am an American Japanese,
so help me.
You are free now.
You are free—
On the way to Dachau,
a Jewish boy named Itzak,
bedraggled, ill-looking, a fugitive
from a forced march,
ran in front of my tank.
I halted, opened the hatch,
and climbed out.
He kneeled and put his feeble,
puppetlike arms around my legs.
I picked him up;
Unmoored, he could have been mine
or anyone's imperiled son.
He marveled at my generous lips,
my nappy hair, [End Page 363]
and made it bell-clear
by his looks and gestures,
he had never seen a Negro.
And in the most ecstatic
moment of my life, I laughed,
content to be Itzak's oak,
his upright tree,
and his deliverance.


Cyrus Cassells is author of four volumes of poems, the most recent being Beautiful Signor. For his poetry he has received a number of awards, including a Lannan Literary Award, Lambda Literary Award, and the Callaloo Creative Writing Award. He is an associate professor of English at Southwest Texas State University and lives in Austin.



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pp. 365-366
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