Red Geraniums – Victoria Mack

When the officers knew the enemy was closing in
they threw the young ones in open wagons
and brought them north.
The boy was thirteen or fourteen
but starvation made him look like a child,
big-eyed and shrunken.
The days grew colder the further north they got
and the nights were a cold there is no word for.
The winter burned them.
Bits of flesh fell off the boy’s feet
and he gripped them with his hands
to ease the pain.
When they arrived at the new camp
only twenty boys were left
the others dead on the wagon floor
or thrown into the snow
landing as lightly as birds
with their beaks open
and their eyes round and dark.
An officer told the boys to stand in a line
and the boy held his breath
but the commander waved his hand and said
“No matter, they will die in the camp.”
So he survived again.
Mame and Bruder had burned
the first day in the first camp
and Fater had grown too sick to work
and been shot, but the boy survived.
He survived a long time.
He made it to a new world.
He met a kind woman
who didn’t ask about the past
and had two sons and five grandchildren
who traced the number on his arm
with chubby pink fingers.

As an old man he went back. In spring.
Outside the northern camp by the front gate
red geraniums grew.
He watched the petals wave in the breeze
and began to cry.
“You have no right, no right,”
he mumbled, his tears choking him,
although he knew it wasn’t their fault.


Victoria Mack is a Jewish disabled writer, actor, director, and teacher. Her MFA is from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and her BA is from Barnard College. She has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Literary Vegan, and Oddball Magazine, received an honorable mention for the 2019 Women On Writing Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2021 Able Muse Prize.

3 thoughts on “Red Geraniums – Victoria Mack

  1. Steve Pollack

    Victoria, thank you for sharing this story and your podcast discussion with Aaron. Horrific images presented so powerfully- yet with an understated dignity. Curious that the poem mentions the names of several boys who did not survive, but not the main character. I was struck, that the geraniums “in the breeze” stand as does his fruitful life, his chastise, “you have no right” as his own guilt. Yasher koach, Steve.

    1. Victoria Mack

      Hi Steve, thank you so much for your comment! Mame, Bruder and Fater are Yiddish for Mama, Brother and Papa, but you are not the first person to ask this question. Thanks again!


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