ODESSA: July, 1954

Faded heavens, a garden grown fallow,
on a wide veranda the family's at table.
Out from windows dusty curtains billow.
The teapot cools; the oilcloth dangles.

Cat's-cradle of bickering, all innuendo.
This is the way that a secret is kept:
words that are seemingly mumbo-jumbo,
but gestures the eyes can intercept.

The secret nests in the sum of sighs,
in piles of papers, in dust in the corner.
Over the green fence a butterfly flies
then settles itself to close like a folder.

The wings' backsides are jaggedly broken,
like leaves or shards of colored glass.
The wicker chairs, this shaken Eden--
all is in motion and all has gone past.

In the year of nineteen-fifty-whatever,
what was their quarrel, those who are dead?
What hopes flew through the dacha's bower
and passed in circles over my head?

Now we pose mysteries to young of our own,
similar riddles to those I remember--
waking at night to the door wide-thrown,
the sight of my silk-shirted grandfather.

Rounded lenses a narrow frame restricts
cut the bridge of his nose with a narrow trace.
The past is narrowed the way pupils constrict
when light is projected straight in your face.

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