The Begonia

by Grace Przywara

Honorable Mention, Poetry, Create | Encounter 2019


In the solitude of my prison cell, I have come to the bitter recognition that I have sinned gravely against humanity...I am to pay for this with my life. May the Lord God forgive one day what I have done.

-Rudolf Höss, in a message to the state prosecutor four days before his execution


I.

Alone in that loud, congested building,

footsteps smacking the cold, concrete floor and

echoing off the cold, concrete walls,

firearms convincing cooperation.

Suspense of hours, reality of minutes

proceeded the shutting of the cell door.

First night: fought himself awake

after two of the same nightmare,

his life, his choice to kill another man

because somebody told him to,

because he thought it was a good idea.


II.

Knocknocknocknock

Warden at his doorstep with a woman,

small, frail, the giant man next to her and

her black mantle making her look smaller, frailer,

the solid cross around her neck too much.

Confusion, even though a smile woven by

wrinkles, outstretched arms, and

delicate, veiny hands holding a gift

a most obvious sign of giving.

“You’ll see the begonia soon. Give it

sunlight in the morning, keep the soil moist,

and it doesn’t hurt to talk to it.”

A paper terra-cotta-colored coffee cup

housed two handfuls of dirt. If an object ever

tried to do something, it was this, trying

to brighten the monochromatic cell.

A thousand cups could not chase out the shroud

that hung,

the grey of justice and mortality.


III.

He waited until it peeked through the dirt, until

it could hear him before he started asking it

questions he couldn’t answer himself.


IV.

“Let’s go.”

He thought of what brought him there.

Who brought him there. I’m sorry, man. To his family, too,

who screamed in those nightmares.

Door opened. Thoughts of that woman, the white begonia

in his cell that had resurrected so many times.

Hands that took life, hands that gave life over and

over and over.

He prayed clumsily. I’m sorry.

He took a seat.


V.

Bed stripped, floor swept,

cup of dirt trashed.

What’s the point of a cup of dirt?

Ready for the next one.

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