By Irena Praitis

During the evacuation march, a 12 year old Ukrainian boy was shot to death one night when he asked, desperately, to leave the cellar where we were all housed, to relieve himself. Römhild Work Education Camp, 1945.

The boy pleads, and I remember mother
whipping me with the vacuum cord.
She’d caught me making farting noises
with friends. Shame! She raged,
You’re not an animal! Hide your dirt,
or you’ll be buried in it—
gentility designed to save us
that cost us our lives.

He whines, Come with me to ask.
Please! I need to go outside…
Use the barrel! I snap.
He starts to cry. A boy sent to fight,
caught, like the rest of us.

I turn away on the dirt floor,
intending to sleep,
but I listen for his voice.
The night guard slaps him with the rifle.
The boy begs.
I hear his bowels loosen
as the guard cocks the gun and fires,
grunting with disgust.


Irena Praitis earned her BA from Carleton College, her MA from Washington University, and her PhD and MFA degrees from Arizona State University. She is the author of three poetry collections, Touch, Branches, and Straws and Shadows, a prose-poem biography, One Woman’s Life, and a co-translated collection of poems by the Lithuanian poet Sonata Paliulyte, Still Life.

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