after reading Anna Swir
1939 and my mother
is not the town beauty
my mother is an orange flower the wind
can move only so much.
Iron in hand
the butcher’s wife’s hair.
Powerful gypsies come in and out
whispering secrets their eyes like bats
their skirts sweeping the floor of the beauty shop
My mother the flower says nothing but
dropping her orange hair, smiles.
Oh. Does she know I’m already inside her?
My father the Hun stands on a chair
sword in hand, over his customer – Hah!
waving his razor in the air
like an orchestra conductor, whop! whop!—
killing them with stories.
The customer laughs, You tickle me, Joe.
My father takes off the white sheet
from around the man’s neck and – whips it into the air, snap!
laughing back, What do you think!
everybody knows me here already!
Mama, please don’t steal the lilacs.
We are only strangers on the sidewalk, Mama.
When I am a woman, with a house and a fence,
Will you steal lilacs from me too?
Mama, please, don’t pick their lilies,
In our house they will turn old,
In our house they will overpower us.
1968 and he curses people who spit in the streets
curses those who will not arrest them
curses the missing signs on the grass
that in Europe told him to KEEP OFF!
You know?—Once I saw Hitler in a parade!
Standing on top of my friend’s shoulders!
I saw him! Hah!…. It was really something!
Listen, God had fun making the world!
He is probably still laughing at the joke!
I have to make his acquaintance some time!
Shake his hand! Maybe give him a haircut!
I would be the best barber in heaven!
He is still laughing.
I am still smiling, growing younger by the minute—
I am seven, six—
He lifts me onto his shoulders
quiet under the trees
the fields flapping under white clouds.
Even if he tore the horizon apart
with his screaming, he could still reach God.
I am bringing my father
back to paradise.
She ruined her hands with chemical solutions
humming as she curled their perfect little oceanwaves
painting on their long fragrant fingernails
smiling up at their tunics and bows
her hands aswim in the poisonous lacquered waves.
Famous Resistance. Can it be
that in a thicket in the Underground, in 1943
she played a wicked game of chess
with a former Union leader no less
both in shirts of
That out of a tree-stump he had carved a chessboard
in the moonlight, just for her
while, somewhere in the trees, a mandolin played?
That, although she blushed at the way he looked at her
calculating every one of her moves—
and my father
came bounding out of the trees
dragged her back to the fire
and made her dance with him!
Which embarrassed her for all the rest of her life
and the war be damned?
Like owls, we were
lucky to be living in the dark.
My father rose up as if into a dream
when the plane came in the middle of the night.
It was snowing
the softest quietest snow
One by one they came out of their holes
into the whitest midnight on earth
snow falling around them like a myth.
As if what they wished for had a new name.
And so came to (she reminds him)
where the parachute landed
in a tree
dropping tinned meat, cigarettes… and news.
Beside the small fire can it be?
which to God must have appeared like a flower of light
in the damp forests of the earth
a Partisan woman leaned back to sing
a war ballad and they sang along.
Perhaps it can, in 1989.
But my father remembers only
that fell so quietly
into his dream.