Museum of Hostages
In this photo a young man waits
for his execution.
He's tied to a bullet-scarred tree,
his eyes half-closed as if he
had fed on strawberries
from a picnic basket, as if this blue flame
of sky and a bottle of good Riesling
made him drowsy, comfortably unaware
of the Nazi pill boxes and trenches
that still ring the courtyard.
The guide tells me that this museum
was once a prison full of farmers
and their families. On this very date, the Nazis
set them free as a gesture of good will
to flee the Russians, who marched
through the Soca Valley like red ants,
devouring all flesh in their path.
The prisoners ran, blinded more by thoughts
of freedom than fear of its result.
When the trees along the hillcrest
spread out before them like pillars from heaven
machine guns inside the bunkers
opened fire. Women fell first,
covering their children. Then, men turned
back to fight the lead wind with bare hands.
Red wheat roiled in the field.
"Guns barked with Hun efficiency,"
says my guide through his tears. But his hand curls
behind his back waiting, like a ripe
flower, for the tolar coins I rain into his palm.
I ask about the photo as we leave the silent
building and why this man got tied to a tree.
"He was afraid to leave his cell,
so the Nazis made him watch
then shot him last."
The guide smiles and waves at a German
tour bus parked beside the garden.