It's the only way to be

You live for love, don't you, said the friend.
I don't remember what I said, but I know
at once I recalled Judit, who had offered
her delicate tattooed forearm to me
as if she were offering tea and scones.  
Auschwitz, Birkenau, Hessisch Lichtenau—
she'd come through, somehow,
unbowed and unbroken and
radiant with the rarest kindness, born only
from the unimaginable.

When I traced the cruel inked numerals
steeped in her rice paper skin I wept.
She smiled and hushed me gently.
Which one do you play?
she asked me.

We were thespians then, a new show
in Portland, Maine, resistance fighters
of the Holocaust, my hair shorn
to a half-inch. Which one are you?
she repeated. Guess, I had said.
One look into my eyes, sad despite
so very much luck, such fortune
(and those were the happy times). 

You are the young lover, are you not?
Yes. I can see it. You, the beautiful 
young lover. I can tell. 
One of the other
actors spoke then: She's our own
Isabella Rossellini. 

Judit sighed. Ah, to be the lover.
She patted my cheek,
touched my lips with trembling hand.
It's the only way to be.