Claudia Rankine


A friend tells me this story: She goes to a bathhouse
in Los Angeles and sees an old woman with an
identification number on her arm. The markings
begin with the letter A.

I saw her concentration camp number and
that it started with the letter A. My cousin
has the same one. So I said, My cousin was
in the same concentration camp as you.

I was in Auschwitz, but how did you know?

Because of the A.

It turns out the A’s collision with Auschwitz is pure
coincidence. The A in the identification number
stands for the German word for worker—arbeiter.

You think the A stands for location, but it
stands for function.

What my friend wanted me to understand about
that conversation was that “Frieda Berger and I had
defied history in order to have it. She was supposed
to be dead, and I was supposed never to have been
born. And we both lived, and found each other in
LA, and she was able to tell me this detail about the
letter A. A detail that allows me to begin to be true
to her life as precisely as it is lived.”


On the bus two women argue...
When I remember this story...
My grandmother is in a nursing home...
My grandmother tells me...

© 2005 Electronic Poetry Review