Where now is the border
which they crossed in the company
of three back-country smugglers
with a wink from the border guards
(though treading lightly all the same).

Three times the line has been erased:
first by the Soviets, after that by the Nazis,
then by the Soviets once again.

Sixty years later, the place looks the same--
low hills, the river, thicketed slopes,
grass, greening as it nears the water,
rushes, a handful of scrawny cattle,
thick with horseflies.

At the start of the thirties, this border
marked a break between the past,
where men wore yamulkas and dark clothes
and women shaved their heads,
and the future, where men and women
built socialism on equal terms,
with the enthusiastic help of dark-eyed children
wearing Young Pioneer neckerchiefs.

The illegal border crossing
was a ill-considered effort to recapture the past.

And the whole family (well, almost all)
did escape into the past for five full years
until the present showed its face again.
The future would be more brutal than they imagined
and would last until the year 1943.

She, the fifteen-year-old daughter, stayed
among the red banners and the foreigners,
among portraits of gloomy men
in starched suits or uniform shirts
of military cut with high collars.

Why? She dawdled, she said,
and couldn't find the path,
then the smugglers were arrested
and the magic portal to the past
slammed shut forever.

But I think that she returned,
for some reason, to him--
the seventeen-year-old boy,
flat-headed and wag-eared
as the rest of the Lerman family.

They married before long,
without benefit of rite or rabbi
and lived together more than
half a century.

Sometimes God extends His blessing
by way of the atheist clerk
in the marriage registry office.

So, the one who chose love, found life.

The fate of the others is unknown--
but at the same time--clear.

This may seem out of place,
but I remember the words
of a certain schizophrenic.

His child had died
falling from an apple tree,
impaled upon a picket fence.

In the bizarre, dramatizing manner
typical of some such patients,
he descrided the event so:

"My son died by falling
from the tree of knowledge,
transfixed upon
that which separates us."

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