Jemshed Khan lives and works in Kansas and Missouri. He has published in
diverse magazines including Unlikely Stories, Rigorous, Rat's Ass Review,
Chiron Review, Clockwise Cat, shufPoetry, Barzakh, pureSlush, Fifth Estate,
and califragile. He also has work slated to appear in Coal City
Review, San Pedro River Review, I-70 Review, and Writers Resist.
He has served as a guest editor for Glass: Poets Resist, was nominated
for The Pushcart Prize XLIV, has completed a chapbook, and is mulling a book-length
The poem's title refers to the tattooed numbers on the arm of Sonia
Warshawski, a survivor of the Holocaust who is Jemshed Khan's tailor and the subject of the movie Big
She was nearly seventy and catching the evening news
when the buzzcut Skinheads appeared on the big screen TV
gathering to explain that it was all just a hoax.
She had thought the Dead dead,
but now the remnant past prickled about her
and the peephole of memory swung open.
Tiny white bones began rising up to consciousness
and she journeyed back into cattle cars
and marched again through the fresh and falling snow.
When tilling fields for crops she was startled again
by the tiny white bones of babies turned into fertilizer.
She revisited the half-living around the edge of fire,
and heard voices from her childhood
that had gathered to the chambers.
Now, when I walk in her sewing shop
she looks up and her pale eyes flash and smile.
The bulb of the vintage Singer machine
blazes yellow on the backs of her hands
as her fingers draw thread
through a needle’s eye.
Her veins are old, full and blue like tattoos.
When her hand feeds fabric to the seam,
the veins bulge and I see the dull blue numbers
on her forearm are ink from another century.
She tells me that a few survived the chambers:
Those bodies that still breathed
were dragged out no differently
and stacked with the dead;
all then doused for the burning.
After the blaze of fuel was spent
and the fiery core had sunk to ash,
the edge of the smoking heap was mostly char.
Little survived past that smoldering edge –
Just the upper body still alive
with a hand that moved a bit
and a face tilting upward.
The eyes locked intently upon her,
sharply holding her witness.