Chernowcy, 1956

Hanna leads her six-year-old grandson
down a deserted town street
going who knows where.

Early morning. Low clouds.
Vacant windows--except for one,
with a white curtain
with two wide black
parallel stripes
along the bottom edge.

The wind drags on the linen,
unravelling it into a white streamer
of improbable length
that touches the face of the frightened child,
who tries to burrow into the wall,
looking down at
grey square slabs,
grass stabbing through the cracks,
red rhombic "soldier" bugs
with Aztec-painted shells
that skitter to and fro.

Grandmother and grandson
go down a crooked sidestreet
named after Klara Tsetkin;
they turn left onto a square,
where there is a theater
built on bones--
standing over the bulldozed site
of the old Jewish cemetery.

The year before, its east wall
shook and sank--
the dead, reminding us of them--
a last reminder, most likely.

Restored expeditiously,
the building stands foursquare.

Grandmother and grandson go on
and the white linen keeps unravelling,
an imperceptible wind tossing it up and down,
shaking the limbs of the trees.

Here, something is not right;
the limbs toss in sundry directions,
as if there is a special wind for each,
or each responds to the breath of wind
in its own way.

. . . all is vanity
and a chasing after wind.

The two cross the street;
Grandmother Hanna stumbles,
dislodging one of the cobbles,
opening a square inspection port
to the underground domain.

The boy bends over the hole
seeing something resembling
a night sky, thick with stars,
that he imagines are the opened
eyes of millions of sleepers
who see in their dreams
something even stranger
or more fearsome
than what he sees himself.

Forty-one years later
a grizzled, stooped man
who once was a child
read this fragment
to a slender woman.

She said,
"Is it possible
you can't be honest,
even when you interpret dreams?"

He shook his head, said,
"Actually, it was just
two lights in the square black hole,

and the voice of Grandmother
(or some other loud, clear voice)
said, 'It's a corpse. Look--
see the burning eyes?
He has seen the devil.'"

* * * * *

Later, he remembers
another recent dream
where he, together with a stranger,
black as tar in a grey cloak,
with a face slightly mishapen
by a spiteful sneer,
walks along a dusty Odessa street
toward the nearby Peresypsky bridge,
passing a house where at some time or other
his parents lived,
and where someone else
must be living now.

© 1996 Boris Khersonsky. All rights reserved.
Translation by Ruth Kreuzer and Dale Hobson.