June, 2013, during a European study abroad touring Nazi work camps, I joined fellow Suffolk University students to participate in the Occupy Movement in Prague-We slept in the camp with other protesters, until we were eventually driven out by police a few days later.
They were what the native demonstrators named budovy bastardu
“skyscrapers of the bastards”-
They were the shimmer and the distance.
We were the skeletal shadows of trees,
their cloak of darkness stretching over our tents
pitched haphazardly throughout the public park.
We circled the campfire at night,
but not to share scary stories-
We thought we knew what scary meant.
And we were never the stained-glass window panes
suffusing sacred spectrums inside Wenceslas Cathedral,
never the glint of light reflected off the golden chalice
lifted to the cross for transubstantiation…
We were the hollow clarity one notices in a wishing well
after a silver coin sinks below its surface,
the moment empty and clear as a beautiful god
someone has stripped nude of any power.
If police sirens and bullhorns possessed power,
we would have had, perhaps, a minute more
of some god’s blessing to cease and scatter,
but that minute, blurring, became
only the rippling of reflections in wishing wells,
became only our lungs, worn-out,
suspense and bravery blending with every breath…
I could taste it for days, like the taste of budget wine
a priest swore was the blood of Jesus-
Jesus tasted like rust.
It freed my mind from my body, so badly beaten
with batons the bruises were the purple of a Lenten sash
left out on a sidewalk in the summer
to be trampled by pedestrians.
Left out why? For whom? For businessmen and beggars?
For skeptics and believers?
Who gives a shit on less than minimum wage?
We left our bodies in that park,
within sight of the skyscrapers, the slum, the cathedral-
Where diplomats could be seen walking
with security details toward the presidential palace,
where what was left of us
collapsed our tents, cleaned up our trash,
cried, embraced each other through it all
in an aquarium of abuse, submerging deeper
with this desperate company of justice and peace,
two clownfish floundering like buffoons.
That rust we tasted on our breath was us,
that rust wasting away the benches we spray-painted-
And whether those benches rot into dust,
or whether city workers come and rip them down
to build new ones, is a matter of perspective,
of how you see things there-
That crop circle of residual campfire,
the coffee can heaping with stubbed-out smokes,
blood-speckled grass, the booted warblers
frightened into flight,
those children playing catch,
that beggar, that businessman, me, you.
a restaurant one block away from Auschwitz I
After savoring the first mouthful of smoked Frankfurters-
slathered with mustard and relish-
the man-at-the-bar’s face shatters with ecstasy,
so eternal and frenzied it might be that of a homeless boy
just handed a bowl of flavorless stew at that shelter
I crossed the street to evade…
A bowl of flavorless stew for a homeless boy, his family,
for the expanse of souls that leered at me, one by one,
from hundreds of framed photographs
that lined the hallways of the buildings in the camp,
their imagined screams packing the atmosphere
to the hardness of a concrete slab-In the gas chamber,
the audience should have stopped chatting and snapping pictures,
and be snared, slowly, like ancient creatures staring wide-eyed
at the undirected randomness within the devastation
of a comet’s collision…
And now, here, I find myself towering with solitude,
repeating to this goddamned man’s face:
where is it, again, where is it that you’re from?
Domenic Scopa is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poetry and translations have been featured in Poetry Quarterly, Reed Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Belleville Park Pages, and many others. He is currently an adjunct professor for the Changing Lives Through Literature program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is also a copyeditor for The Tishman Review and a manuscript reader for Hunger Mountain.