For my grandfather
A U.S. army dentist with bad eyesight and a tendency to stutter
was called to the Nuremberg trials
because the skin of the dead were made into lampshades
kneecaps made into paperweights.
Lawyers claimed it was the end of suffering
as the sentences were passed down
to the war criminals dressed in black,
the dark orb of their eyes popping in the flash
of camera bulbs and applause.
The dentist was ordered to pull the prisoners' teeth
one by one, each gold and silver filling
was to be extracted before the executions.
He tried to introduce himself, but choked—
on his own name as if sound
had been detached from meaning,
peering into the darkness of each man's mouth
as each face came before him
each body leaning back in the chair obediently
hours before the contortions of the rope would warp
their smooth, fixed expressions.
He pulled each tooth from the root,
a mixture of blood and saliva
draining from the swollen gums as he released his grip
and waited for the men to swallow,
wiping the teeth clean with his fingertips
collecting the gold encrusted enamel, dropping them
in a small glass bowl where they gleamed like candy.
He tried to make conversation as he did this, tried to
string a sentence together, such as,
have you read the Bible or how are you feeling?
But it's hard not to stutter—
not to hesitate, not to know exactly what
you are trying to say, speaking didn't come easy.
It was the timing of each word he got wrong.
Words struggling against each other,
air in the throat, tumbling from the bridge
of the mouth, how to talk and breathe at the same time
consonants and vowels,
wind gusts twisting in a damp cave,
breaking through in fragments,
breaking within as if
each word could never be whole again.