Three Poems

 by Elizabeth Kate Switaj


from Aktion T4

before I tell you how I died, I’d
tell you how I was born
if I could remember my first breath,
the midwife, and the warm
room—at least one of those is true—Mum
would say
if she’d outlived me seventy three
years instead of twenty

but she was always moving,
her hips like dancing
when she walked
a river with her hands
that made us breakfast, made us pots,
made casings for weapons
I couldn’t understand, and I
before I tell you how I died, I’d
tell you how the birds sang

if I could have heard them; I
thought the shapes their colors made
as their feathers flew
were song
until my Dad wrote me
that singing was heaven,
and I didn’t have the sense to understand
and flight was good enough for me
before I tell you how I died

I’d tell you how I loved the boy
who couldn’t see—
I held his hand
and knew that it was yes
by his holding me
before I tell you how I died
I’d tell you how I loved the man
he became
who carried wood he chopped
along the route his feet
had memorized,
how he avoided
roots that would trip me
I don’t exactly know
but I’d kiss his shoulders
when his hands
helped me to stand

before I tell you how I died,
know that I never learned to walk
with the rhythm and the river
that guided my mother,
but the man who held my hands
loved the way I stumbled

before I tell you how I died,
remember I
was a widow;
he had a congenital
weakness in his heart

and I received a pension,
and they tried to track me down
even after I was gone
to pay me

before I tell you how I died
remember, I was happy
until 1941,
and I don’t want to tell you
who and what I saw
in that concrete room
after that grey bus.



from Aktion T4

it wasn’t all white roses
some of us were never heroic
nor willing to go along
I never learned to swim
and they convicted me
of political dissidence
because I was slow to take off my hat
they said I burned potatoes and wheat
that would have fed the flower
of Germany’s pure manhood
slowly being turned to blood
and fragmented bone
(they did not speak of that)
and I wish I had
the court
-appointed expert in compassion
said I could not understand my crime
instead of prison I went to Eichberg
hospital—at least I had a bed
stained with piss
and it seemed like decades
but was only four years
when they took me to the killing
showers and took
what I left behind
to flames


On Learning That KFC Is Offering Boneless Chicken

if I de-boned
this body
would you let me fall
onto your collar
bone and shoulder
bones—would you give me arms

to encase my flesh—would you be my ex
oskeleton, skeleton, you are formed
by osteoblasts blasting
calcium salts and collagen
around themselves, and I

my armor’s all inside
if I removed
this hard & whitish substance
I would be without substance
and I would
pull out these bones
if I thought someone would love
to give me form

Read The Story Behind “Three Poems” by Elizabeth Switaj on our blog

About Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Elizabeth Kate Switaj is a Humanities Instructor at the College of the Marshall Islands and a Contributing Editor to Poets’ Quarterly. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Queen’s University Belfast and an M.F.A. in Poetics and Creative Writing from New College of California. Her first collection of poetry, Magdalene & the Mermaids, was published in 2009 by Paper Kite Press. Recent poems have appeared in UCity Review and Coldnoon. For more information visit

Elizabeth Kate Switaj

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