Where's the sun? I can't see the sun. I should be able to see the
sun. It's too hot to not be able to see it. How can it be so hot when
it's so cloudy?
The shovel feels funny in my hands. How many times have I used a
shovel in my life? It's a tool, it's a means to an end. The goal I
have finds existence through my shovel, therefore the shovel feels
funny because of the readiness, the willingness it has to provide this
existence. It feels funny because the existence is funny. Funny's not
the word I'm looking for.
"Hurry up, I want to get some lunch."
"Yes sir," I say. Why do I say that?
My mind wanders; I can't help it, I 've always been this way. My
mother used to yell up at me in my room when it was time for dinner or
when my grandparents had arrived, or some such thing, and I wouldn't
hear her. Sometimes I would be so absent-minded that by the time I was
paying attention to something important it would be too late. He was
That scuffling sound. I woke up and there it was, big and arrogant,
yellow teeth and all, powdered blood on its snout, pulling at his nose,
pulling so hard it made his head lift from the bunk, then the *thwip*
sound as the flesh came free and the *thunk* of his head falling back.
He wasn't even stiff yet. The beasts are always alert. To be human is
to be absent-minded, to be inhuman is to always be ready, be hard, to
survive at the expense of those who are not. The scuffling sound
sticks to me like sand in the teeth. My first thought was of my wife
turning over in bed next to me, then cock-roaches, then opening my eyes
and seeing it, whiskers twitching, grasping the nose. I just watched,
I couldn't move. I was immobilized. What's wrong with me?
I cough and spit out blood.
The soil is hard and tight, a pick-axe would go faster. I want this
to go faster for some reason.
I have no hair. My teeth feel loose in my gums -- I'm afraid to eat.
The bread with pits; I bit down hard and nearly cracked my jaw. The
pain of biting something so hard was terrible, but the realization that
the pit was a tooth was worse. I felt around my mouth with my tongue
and everything was where it should be. Thank God it wasn't mine. Oh
God, it wasn't mine. "Extra protein", said one. "There's no protein
in teeth", said another. "It isn't mine", I said. There was silence
after that. Silence like that can snap a man in two.
"Remember, if anything should happen..."
The air smells fresh and clean, but a little damp. It smells like
spring. Can it really only be spring? I see an earthworm when I lift
my shovel and my first thought, God help me, is to eat it. As if I
were a bird, or one of those gigantic rodents that prowl among us at
night. With my shovel I lift it carefully out of the way, placing it
in the pile of fresh earth I'm creating. I wonder if it realizes how
lucky it's just been.
Do I believe in reincarnation? Could a man die and be reborn as an
earthworm? After all this, in spite of everything else I've ever
thought or believed, at the moment it somehow seems very plausible.
It's like a sort of invisible capital, being shifted around behind the
scenes. I don't believe that what we do in this life affects it much
though, I think it's random. I think kings are reborn as earthworms
and vice-versa. Although I suppose it would take several earthworms to
make a king. Or maybe a few earthworms and a tree. Or perhaps when
the king dies, he is converted into all the bacteria that decompose
him. How poetic. It's a poem that no one can read or hear or
appreciate, but it's poetic nonetheless. Goodness or evil, there's
nothing poetic or meaningful in that. We do what we do, it impresses
no one and gets us no special treatment. There's no such thing as a
good coin or a bad coin -- it's worth the same whether or not it shines.
Laughter behind me. I dig my shovel in especially deep. I want to
get done. My hands will begin to blister by the time I'm done. I
I think of the eyes, looking at me. I'm cold, tired, hungry,
frightened. The eyes regard me casually, without anger or hatred or
anything like feeling. It's business to those eyes. They scan me, I
am an object of vision, I evaporate into his gaze and enter his brain,
flying past judgments and memories, over preconceived notions and just
under a strong sense of duty, lodging finally in some little temporary
chunk of space where I just fit, where the shape of my nose, my thin
frame, my full face of hair, meet with a closely defined negative space
of bureaucratic rigidity that grabs my features and stretches them
effortlessly into caricature. I am ashamed of what I am because all I
am are these features. At the moment, nothing else about me is real in
the least. I look down. He speaks and points and I look back to his
eyes, but he is finished with me and has gone on to the next person.
Like an assembly line, a machine. Can it only be a few weeks ago? I
feel as though it were ten years ago.
"Remember, if anything should happen to me, promise me..."
I don't know the man next to me, I've never seen him before. He
could be me. No hair, thin, that nose, we all look alike. There's
nothing special about any of us. And yet I don't know him. I don't
want to know him. It would be redundant to know him because he's just
me all over again. We wouldn't talk to one another, we'd whimper like
dogs. Is this what it means to have power? To be a man? Must one
first separate oneself from something larger? No, that can't be it,
they are something larger and they have power. Why am I digging this
hole? I look up at the guard, in uniform, top button undone, hat
pulled down so far you can't see his eyes, holding the rifle cradled in
his arm like a sick child, so gentle one expects a caress. Is it the
gun? No, I wouldn't dig a hole for a gun.
"What are you looking at?" The guard kicks me in the side and I
fall face down into the freshly scarred earth. God it hurts -- I can
hardly breathe -- did he break a rib? -- the bastard -- I press my forehead
into the ground and arch my back -- I spit dirt out of my mouth -- the
filthy bastard -- how can he be human? -- God that hurts -- I still have
pebbles in my mouth, and a slime film of soil coats my tongue -- can I
really be the same species as that? -- how can he do that to me? -- for
looking at him! -- it hurts so much to breathe, I'm afraid I'll
cough -- the eyes must be part of the answer -- there must be power in a
glance -- who am I kidding? -- I dig this hole because I don't feel I have
a right to refuse, and because I'm afraid. I pick myself up from the
ground, and I cough twice violently and fall to my knees from the pain
and howl out an unintentional cry.
"Cut the theatrics, I told you once already to hurry up. Let's just
get this crap over with."
Weakly, I lift myself up, as if balancing on step ladder, then
carefully lean over to pick up my shovel. It helps to move around, the
pain is beginning to recede a little, as long as I don't cough again
I'll be all right.
Without looking up: "Yes sir?"
"Do you forgive me?" He's laughing inside.
"You heard me. I'm really sorry I did that." He can barely hold it
"Don't worry about it."
"I didn't say I was worried, I just asked if you forgive me you
stinking son of a bitch!"
"Yes sir yes sir yes sir. Yes sir what?"
"You are dumb aren't you? Hey you over there!" The fellow next to
me stops working. "Are you listening to this? Have you ever run across
anyone so stupid in all your days?"
"no sir" he says quietly.
"I didn't catch that, speak up fella!"
"Me either. Now, it's a very simple question and I'll put it to you
one more time. Do-you-for-give-me-for-kick-ing-you?"
"Good, now I'll be able to sleep tonight" and he kicks me again in
the same place. The other guards laugh. I can't breathe. The squad
leader, who's laughing, tells him to knock it off. I can't breathe,
I'm afraid to even try. I can feel my eyes filling with water.
Please no, not that, I can't let them see me cry, fight it back, I
can't wipe my eyes because they'll know then, my hands are so dirty
they'll muddy up anything. I have to try and breathe, it hurts so much
already. I inhale slightly and lightning pierces my whole right side
and I fall to my right and roll face up and cry out again like an
animal. He was an animal.
I can hear the others still digging. My ear is to the earth and I
hear the muffled thuds in a strange staccato rhythm, like a heartbeat
gone awry. The earth is dying. My God, the earth is dying. The tears
come now, I can't stop them. It hurts so much and the earth is dying
right under me, right under me! It hurts to cry but I
can't help it, I have no choice, it's too horrible!
"Oh knock it off fella. How would you like the little woman to see
you like this?"
She'd understand, she'd have to, the earth is dying! And it hurts
so much. Every time I take in a breath there's a crunching sound in my
ribs, like some one eating nuts. Another guard comes over with a
bucket of water and scoops out a cup of water.
"Hey, come on fella, pull yourself together. Don't give him the
satisfaction. Take a drink."
I look up into a human face. I spit blood from my mouth. I take a
drink, still sniffling, and I make all manner of slurping sounds. The
guard grimaces a little, then smiles weakly.
"That's better. Now let's just get this over with."
"Oh come on Lehninger," yells the squad leader. "That's plenty."
"I've got to go." He picks up the bucket of water and the cup and
climbs out of the hole. I watch him. Lehninger is his name.
Lehninger looks at the other guards who are looking at him.
"He's a human being, isn't he?" And Lehninger wipes off the rim of
the cup with his shirt tail. I look away and pick up my shovel.
"Remember, if anything should happen to me, promise me you'll
I focus on the digging and try to block out the pain and the
crunching in my chest. I choose where my shovel will go by picking out
the brightest stones and digging at them. I smell bad. One of the
worst parts about being beaten is that you end up smelling bad, those
glands in your armpits really kick in. He smelled bad.
I wish I could stop thinking about eating these earthworms. Strange
thing about hunger. Once you get past a certain point, you don't feel
hungry anymore, but your mind...changes. It starts to view the entire
world in more basic terms, edible or inedible. The urges you get are
astounding, and only repulsion and nostalgia keep you from following
those urges. And repulsion doesn't hold out very long. The nostalgia
factor seems to vary randomly from person to person. Some people who
were very prominent, rich, important people forget the old ways very
quickly, and some people who had nothing will hold out until they
starve to death. I remember one man who was an orphan. He came here
with me. He had refused to eat anything from the time they took him.
Even when they offered us decent food he wouldn't touch it. You could
see the battle going on behind his eyes, and many times he would stare
at something so hard you'd think it would magically levitate and fly
into his mouth of its own accord, but he never ate anything. He got
diarrhea and died within two weeks of coming here.
"Oh for Christ's sake that's deep enough, we're not digging for
Oh my God, this is it. Am I ready for this? Why is it just hitting
"On your knees boys. No, stay in the holes. That's right. What,
you thought you were digging this hole for some one else? Everyone
digs their own hole."
Everyone digs their own hole. But it's not true. It's not true!
Some people are born in holes! Some people get pushed into holes they
didn't even know were there! But I dug this hole. This is my hole. I
didn't have to dig it, I could have refused, they couldn't really force
me. I could have been brave. He was a coward.
"That's right, good boys. Hey Lehninger, why don't we have you do
your friend over there."
"Yes sir," said Lehninger, and he came to stand over my hole. I
looked for the human face. I couldn't find it.
"O.K. boys, lets have a nice salute. Come on everybody, don't be
"Remember, if anything should happen to me, promise me you'll
find another wife to help you raise the children."
I didn't keep my promise to her. I only had a week. But I promised
her. Do I still have children? But I promised her. I didn't mean to
promise her that, I love her, I couldn't abandon her like that, she'll
have to understand. How can she? She's dead, she doesn't understand
"That's right, now everybody say 'Heil Hitler'."
"Oh cut it out, let's just do this and get it over with."
"I'm so bored with 'just getting it over with'. Every day is the
same old crap. A person needs novelty. Besides, they don't mind. Hey
you! Do you mind?"
"Yes sir" said a man in a hole.
"Yes sir what?"
"Yes sir, I do mind."
"Oh well aren't you a fucking hero." Machine gun fire, half a dozen
quick shots. "All right, fine, business as usual. You know what I'm
"Sure, I know what you're saying, but you're a professional, you
"Professional my ass, I was drafted. I should be home with my wife
and kids. The British are going to burn my house down and slaughter my
family. All for that crazy paper-hanging son of a bitch."
"Knock it off down there!" yelled the squad leader.
I was listening to them. I could have been using these last few
moments to think my own thoughts and yet I got wrapped up in their
petty crap. And now I'm spending my thought time worrying about it.
Come on Lehninger, show me a human face, I need to look into a human
face for this, I'm afraid to die.
Echoes...fire...I can't breathe...I can't see...He was a
coward...I'm sorry....my mouth is open...there's dirt falling into my
mouth, I'm being buried...I must be dead...or I'm being buried
alive...I can't breathe...I don't believe in God, even now...What does
it mean to be a Jew if you don't believe in God?