On the Move book cover
Created: 7th October, 2021

Cousin Michael

There was a wedding,

and we were invited

and, when we got there,

there was a man

who they said was

my father’s cousin.


This is Michael, they said –

same name as you, hah!

And at one point in the

wedding, my aunt took

me to one side and said

that there was a time

during the war when

Michael was a boy,

sixteen or seventeen,

no older than you are now,

she said, and his parents

said to him that it

wasn’t going to be

safe where they were

in Poland.

And so, my aunt said,

his parents put him on

a train and he never

saw them again.


Like it always was,

at that time, when

people told me things

like this, my aunt just

shrugged, looked sad

and said, I suppose

they died in the camps,

and I never knew what

that meant – what were

these camps? Why were

people taken there?


At the wedding,

I watched him.

He must have been about

forty years old then.

In my mind, I thought of him

being the same age

as me, and I imagined

my parents

saying to me one day:

Michael, go, don’t stay,

there are soldiers

and police and they are

kicking us out of our

houses and flats –

go, don’t stay.

So they come with me

to a station and we

wait for a train and

all the time we are looking

out for soldiers and

police, but it’s OK, so they

hug me and kiss me

and I get on the train,

and stand in the

corridor and wave to them

through the window,

and I can see them close

together, waving, and then

there’s a shout and a whistle

and the train starts to pull off

and they wave and they wave

and I wave and I wave

till they’re gone.


And that’s the last I ever see

of them. I never see them again

but wherever I go, and whoever

I’m with, I remember that picture

of them standing together,

waving me off, and for the rest

of my life I can’t make any of it

make sense, that they did that

thing of making me safe and

there was nothing they could

do for themselves. And I think

again and again of what they

might have been thinking at

that moment as they waved

and stood close to each other.

What did they think as they

lost everything? And later

they were herded together

and taken to a camp, never knowing

what had happened, never knowing

why this was happening, never knowing

what was happening to me,

even at the very end

as they were closing their eyes.


And though I smile and walk about

in the world, I carry this with me

wherever I am, whoever I’m with,

and no matter how many times

I try to change it, no matter

how many times I try to get them

to come with me on the train,

or how many times I get them

to escape and find me in those

freezing places where I ended up,

or how many times I imagine

that I meet them after the War

is over, and we hug and kiss

and cry, it never happens.

It never happens. There

is always nothing. Nothing but



But I walk about in the world

smiling and nodding. I even go

to weddings, and people smile

at me, even this young man

with the same name as me,

no older than I was when

my parents put me on the train.


And he’s looking at me

like he’s trying to

read me

like a



© Michael Rosen, from On the Move: Poems About Migration, Walker, 2020


Michael Rosen - Cousin Michael