The Vanished

For Nelly Sachs

It wasn’t the earth that swallowed them. Was it the air?
Numerous as the sand, they did not become
sand, but came to naught instead. They’ve been forgotten
in droves. Often, and hand in hand,

like minutes. More than us,
but without memorials. Not registered,
not cipherable from dust, but vanished –
their names, spoons, and footsoles.

They don’t make us sorry. Nobody
can remember them: Were they born,
did they flee, have they died? They were
not missed. The world is airtight
yet held together
by what it does not house,
by the vanished. They are everywhere.

Without the absent ones, there would be nothing.
Without the fugitives, nothing is firm.
Without the forgotten, nothing for certain.

The vanished are just.
That’s how we’ll fade, too.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger

translated by Rita Dove and Fred Viebahn