March 18

Mar 27, 2022

Image: Frank DeSarro

Burnt on my Soul

I am twelve and a night owl.
My sisters are asleep, my father is at work.
I hear the murmur of voices below and know my mother is watching TV.
I creep downstairs.
“Go back to bed Barbara. This is not something you should watch.”
She sees my face, and, knowing I am endlessly curious, invites me to join her.
On the screen are piles of dead bodies.
“What is it?” I ask.
“A concentration camp called Auschwitz.”
I don’t understand, but the image is burnt onto my soul.
I am 15, standing in the basement of our old farmhouse.
The walls are thick stones, and there is a coal cellar.
It is so dark and dank it scares me.
But now I stand in the coal cellar with a different kind of fear.
On the news Khrushchev and Kennedy are playing a game of chicken I don’t understand. 
“Can we turn the coal cellar into a bomb shelter?” I ask.
“If they drop bombs on Pittsburgh you don’t want to survive.” 
My dad’s harsh words are burnt onto my soul.
I am 22, a nurse in Vietnam. 
I am straddling the body of a soldier younger than I, 
Trying to find a femoral artery so I can draw blood to measure its oxygen content. 
He doesn’t respond. He will probably die. 
The memory is burnt onto my soul.
Now I am 75. A news-junky. 
I flip from channel to channel. 
The pictures are all the same. 
Of burning buildings, of terrified people, searching for safety.  
One more reminder of war burning onto my soul.

Barbara Kautz
March 6, 2022