By Irena Praitis

Römhild Work Education Camp, 1944

Unboxed from the casket
Of my tailored suit
Everything burns:

The disinfection
The prison tunic
The beatings
The cold

The fear
That drives me to obey
Commands meant for dogs,

The shame
Of lying, thieving,
Putting others in harms’ way.

In my survival cell
I speak little
Help no one,
Could care less.

The ash of my flesh
Settles denser, stickier
Than the powder
Of crucibled trees
Flying with the wind’s breath
Speckled with bone fragments
Too splintered to shore up
What I once was.


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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