Friends visiting from Portland,
had purchased tickets for us all
for the National Holocaust
Memorial Museum.

The weight of death so heavy
it made laughable my grief
for Jerry Garcia, who’d died two days earlier,
on the fortieth anniversary of Nagasaki,
another day of horrors, to shrink
that one death to the infinitesimal.

Except his passing hurt like gangsters
working me over, as we solemnly walked
the halls of death: the piles of empty shoes
and boots, the photos of the lost,
the cattle cars, the silent admonitions
never to let it happen again.

I got separated from the others,
stumbled into the Hall
of the Righteous of Nations—
dedicated to saintly gentiles
who’d rescued Jews, often sacrificing
their own lives—and stared at the names,
their valiant deeds, unable to move,

until a voice, maybe mine, maybe
one of the blessed ghosts that haunt
this hall, maybe Garcia’s, urged me—
as Jerry used to sing—to get up

and be thankful I’m living.

Robert Cooperman’s latest collection is GO PLAY OUTSIDE (Apprentice House), a chronicle of his lifelong unrequited love for basketball.