THE POSTCARD: July, 1914

A woman of middle age
with a round, even puffy, face
wears a dress down to her heels
and stands against a background
of overly-picturesque cliff
(a carefully painted backdrop
in a photographer's studio).

Little is known about this woman.
Even her name, Rachel,
was preserved only on a little page
of autobiography written
by her eldest daughter to get a job
in some sort of Soviet office
at the beginning of the thirties.
"My mother, Rachel, an office worker,
died in July, 1919. . ."
that is--five years after
this bit of news was posted
to her son (a medical student
at the time) in Hamburg.
On the back of the card
are just a few phrases,
lacking even the usual inquisition
about his health or a wish for his fulfillment.
There is just the one reminder:
it is time to order a new suit.

Apparently the youth's health
was not then in doubt.
Fulfillment (unthinkable outside marriage)
was thought for now to be premature.

It remains unclear whether Robert succeeded or not
in having a new suit ordered and made before August,
when he, as an enemy alien, was deported
as a consequence of the onset of events
which, throughout the whole world,
are still unresolved.

For some reason, grandmother Raya
(that is Rachel, who had changed her name)
told me that her mother-in-law
(that is Rachel, who hadn't change her name),
just before dying, bequeathed her all her jewels.

There was just enough to survive
the four famine winters
that came in the next decade.

It is known too,
that Rachel could not abide
modern trends in art.
She forbade her son
to display two prints
rendered in pointillist style.
Rachel called these pictures,
composed of dots, "spotted fever"--

the disease that took her life.

* * * * *

This is what Robert said,
in December, 1952,
when the prospect of arrest
loomed with sufficient clarity:

"The twentieth century began
with a fourteen-year delay.
I don't know when this century will end."

The first part seems to be a quotation;
as for the second part, for Robert,
the twentieth century ended in 1954.

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