William Heyen (1940-)
To The Onlookers
(after Nelly Sachs)

From Erika: Poems of the Holocaust, by William Heyen. Copyright © 1991 by Time Being Press. Reprinted by permission of Time Being Books. All rights reserved.

When our backs are turned,
when someone stares at us,
we feel them.
You who watched the killing, and did nothing,
still feel the eyes of those dead
on your bodies.

How many see you
as you pick a violet?
How many oak branches twist
into hands begging for help?
How many memories congeal
in the sun's evening blood?

O the unsung cradlesongs
in the dove's nightcries--
so many would have loved
their own stars in the night skies,
but now only the old well
can do it for them.

You did not murder,
but looked on, you,
who could have been changed
into light.


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