BELTSY, 1938

They stand facing each other
at arm's length, though his arms
are dropped at his sides and hers
are pressed to her chest, and
his military uniform, today,
is as doubly inappropriate
as her formal dress and brooch
are absurd, given the total chaos
boxing them in from both sides,
and as he knows what's really going on,
he doesn't listen to what she's saying,
but gazes out the window where
a fox-faced black dog shakes himself off
in the middle of the street,
becoming unexpectedly the very picture
of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of Egypt,
country of wattled baskets and abode brick
which her distant ancestors left behind them,
they thought, forever--but here again, in captivity,
under the lash, same as before, but with God quiescent
while the people are scurrying, the air trembling,
swaying, filling with dust--he sees all this
while she speaks, her accent thicker than usual,
but hears nothing, understands nothing
but the foreign accent, as she speaks
about her son, her son, who for some reason
is called "our" son, though simple addition
will say it isn't so--well--who can remember
after all these years and what diffence does it make,
that there is a son off somewhere, run away
and rightly so, escaped perhaps from the trap
that held them inescapably--he ran away
where we can't tear a way out, can't save ourselves--
so she removes the brooch, the deep low cut
of her dress revealing in the depths her breasts,
once nurturing, but now not good for much--what good
are they, having grown not just old, but obsolete,
though still alive--O God, what is she doing--
can she be offering the man a jewel, so that he,
also doomed, might exert himself to help find
the boy, the lad--and he is helpless
as if suddenly roused from sleep, but responding
with the pathetic remains of. . . chivalry one might say,
he gently takes the slightly swollen hand extending
the useless lacy gold object with clear red grains
and kisses it, noticing, as hand approaches face,
how its contour blurs, then, touching his lips
to the dimple from which her breasts diverge,
he refastens the brooch with the same finality
as when they locked up the house they were leaving
forever, and then she begins to cry,
"What are you doing; you know they will kill you;
you see what's going on!"--but as it happens,
at the very moment she grasps what is happening,
he isn't thinking of anything, so clearly the son
will be the only one to live to ripe old age,
even when drawing his pension, still wearing
the foreign uniform of foreign cut
while young soldiers pass before him in review,
small red pillows cradling their medals
(which a few years later will be sold at modest price),
and submachine gunners will fire three volleys
into the air and no one will notice
these two embracing.

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