The following poems, as a group, relate the
fragmented memories of an old
soldier who recalls 'Europe's Long War' - the twentieth
century which begins
and ends in the Balkans. However, each poem is about
migration, the changing
of situation that changes who we are and what we believe.
OLD SOLDIER RETIRES
Old eyes. Rheumy, clouded, wet, slick, too quick from sight
to sight never long at one point. I defile, engorge myself on
morning with my old creeping toward shower, its warm caress,
slower than old sun crawls toward inner corners where dust
Lavabo. The sacrifices of morning drone like an unoiled
against mountainous memories whose peaks vanish (how then?),
vanish more daily into mists that shroud. I am almost in
snows above the treeline. Quickly, green trees full of spring
recede; the day ahead is blackened barren slope. Yesterday
Over its rocks I will slow to pick my way. Like bears early
I have come, come to this, through sleep when I dreamed or
days raw, red with sweat and sugar in my veins; The sap of
thick, rich, and flowing; The laughter of jays on my
feet that could not step without dancing toward work,
some woman I would meet and, at a whim, take to bed,
the long endless unseen pit of tomorrow. Steel. Strong
taunt thighs. Never dawn nor middle night star caught
me asleep. I thought I would never think of sleep.
Now it is morning I think after I think I slept.
Lavabo. Wash sins from me. The woman at bedside
awaits confession - I dreamed no one; could not dream
in the damn cold night; but, I remembered how she loved
me, found another, loved me no more one afternoon
halfway toward the mountaintop with its peak
out of sight, a step more than I'd will to step.
And then is when I went to sleep -
slept an awful kind of waking sleep.
Among those who have sat long the past grows fat -
a burdensome luxury the refugee cannot long carry.
providential vandals, waves provide
for thoughts of change along coasts
where rocks and fluids meet to make
grains and the grains wed to produce
sandbars to provide lovers a shallow
where their salts add to the seasalt
Anna Aleksandrovna loves impressions left by waves along
that shore where her blanket of abandon covered a young
man bent for Amerika. There were semen traces along
her thighs; she touches and smells and tastes of him
then carefully washes the remnant of their sin
out of wedlock into the cleansing sea, beyond
where their children not-to-be are eaten alive.
Anna Aleksandrovna loves the square spot of his back
turned against her as he recedes with tide toward sunset.
It is the first hour after lovemaking; she remembers broad
shoulders like stones ready to fall upon her, ready to crush
her beneath. Her breath mimics that feeling of being crushed
as he swims afterward across the Dnieper. She breathes
heavily with each stroke. He comes again to her then
where she lay waiting on the bank, cold and dreaming sweets
she had eaten one Christmas long ago. Between water and land,
they embrace her until a rattle of boys come to fish break
through the clutter of their lovewords out of the dense wood.
Anna Aleksandrovna remembers his laughter as he ran naked
the boys, his arching member flailing his thighs like the
of a Cossack's horsewhip. And she lavishes herself in
of the sting of the whip that frightened the boys into the
along the water of the Dnieper. She imagines herself with the
in the darkest of woods, shivering, scared of the snakelength
Anna Aleksandrovna dreams Amerika where snake flesh
is a delicious meat shared at a feast to which she remains
uninvited. She stands on the winter shore where in Spring
they had loved and had promised love for ever and ever
for love was timeless, without its seasons, day or night.
"You will come to me," he had said, when I send
You will sail the waves like the mermaid or fly like the
She will. She shall swim across dark seas to him. She will.
She spreads herself across the water, for ever and ever,
like the sacrificed one of the priests. And he must wait -
he IS waiting, he will wait, has waited for her to come
to him out of the sea out of the night, unexpectedly -
like the full moon from behind clouds.
Then, he will cry, "Forgive me my sins."
But she is a comeagain of frightful vengeance
against the unwashed and the washed alike.
ANDAU BORDER CROSSING
The selections are generally done
in a beautifully democratic way,
and where there is no room,
one needn't look for it
We should erect a monument
in this place
without their names
so that we must remember them
else they die as surely as struck down
by their dreams
One after another,
let us all go back.
Slowly at first
sneaking across the border,
speaking with our hands,
exchanging cash and clothes
(here they will think it grand
until one son or daughter packs
quietly at night and is gone
Let us search our souls
for passport photos,
dates of birth,
place of residence;
remember who we are;
let us regain titles
then deny them;
give us our lands
given to others
so we may return them;
let us rebuild what fell
while we were visiting
(they will rejoice; they will feel
cleansed, pure; they will be alone
in their purity by morning).
Let us pretend this is Atlantis
at the end sinking, and we can sail away
with the necessities to bring life
slowly at first into somewhere remembered.
But the borders we cross are not barbwire;
not the fences guarded by soldiers;
our sentinels we carry in the soul.
WAKING IN THE BOMBED CITY
Here the many dead are just as we, we are just as they, the
Who breath and sashay down the street, who breed together
The night, who taste bitter and the sweet, count the seconds
Births and unto deaths, count the minutes until death from
fear of death.
Death's-head dancers at the festival of life - the sacred in
Meeting place, the daughter mother and her son do as we who
>From death, we breath and breed, war and lie, slaughter
dreams for meat.
And then parade. Whole lives in charades have passed and,
Down avenues of bliss in banker tweed, in teacher gowns down
Contempt, enrobed by law, policed by politicians
Meaningless - they all have passed, but unlike we, before
they do pass. The brothers at the public baths, His Holiness
they meet for cash. The purple robe and almost purple patch,
the son of street,
The cleanshaved lass are just as we, lost from their home, a
Who picnic along Sunday avenues; they breath and breed and
bump as we.
In the city, the gypsy wakes and rubs the stubble of his
Strives to redream the dream he'd dreamt about the city's
But wakes among the gelded ghetto rabble whose wine is water
with waste, among the worshippers of any cult or sect
who masturbate or prostitute for cash, who trade their
and soul (like everything so cheap) for bread, for shelter
just one night,
for nine-to-five false permanence, for a semblance of
No eye contact; he does not exist. It pleases him to fall
Return to dreams of death, to breath, to breed to see his
once again and dream the dream of pillow loves between the
where he can dream his dream of sleep. There is no war.
Yet once again he wakes; his wind is freedom's scent, he
chooses no control.
They do not breath and breed and bump and whore and spit and
And scratch their sores and bleed and pus and snot as he;
they only hate.
The bombs they drop upon their city streets,
along the picnic avenues, the mass death eagerness -
Their hatred is a social art, a covenant of binaries (thou
Love as He has loved), a heritage of protected and protracted
Beliefs, a civil cult (idols and ideals and two-way streets),
contract pamphleteered then openly discussed among the
late-night café set
with bleachedwhite blondes (emasculates and trites), a
of seated magi, druids, dunces whose intellect is glue-sniff
then their elect ride out of town enthroned upon an iron ass
the countryside and kill. To mate's the thing, to carry-on
the family name,
get a little on the side, accumulate (buy cheap/sell dear),
proliferate, steer clear of service to community - it really
is a waste.
They haven't got the wherewithal, the heritage of our
success, nor wit.
The masses are illiterate, tell them what to think and they
won't give a
There comes a time the past accumulates its sins.
One father onto fatherless's back and he upon the next
Son to father of a son until the present burden's weight
Can break the neck if one more word, one act, one thought
Awry casts narrow shadow on the foot, then - despite one's
Attempt - becomes unbearable, impossible ignominy and
unexcused at last.
And then they pack. And then they pack their trunks with
favored treats -
This icon of a feud, that portrait of a well-worn hate, these
few fine bolts
Of wrongs done and overdone, forgiveness boxed, a mixed
Some illicit stash (perhaps a book), some tumid hope (a lot
of it) to change
what has been done then redo it all on firmer ground where
potentially a trend or fad, and weakness is its own reward.
a place of spirit free where the greatest sins of lust or
greed, a foolish
a blasphemy can win you gold. So, the masses who are ignorant
will walk or crawl or swim or wade as each must determine for
of those remaining 'mid the maelstrom Change cannot hear the
Uncertainty that leads to Certain Death. It is not only they
who die, not
simply fools and sluts, the cast-off and unwanted filth.
"America," (they whisper it among themselves).
Those city streets, those picnic grounds, those common
unlikes of me,
the tempest tossed, the refuse of these teeming shores, the
O Lord he stinks - and, yet, gets up and they there let him
The gypsy in the bombed out streets, he recognizes them.
These Franks around him now, the same aggressive Franks
who in name of universal Truth did climb the Bosporus banks
to teach the heathen disunite, disloyal to their pasts
to modernize and so untribal hate. And, then, he wakes from
Dream too real. And, when he wakes, he wakes into the dream.
It's far too late. The boxcar full of cattle friend and
A distant relative of dancing bull, a calf that looks a bit
The boxcar rolls along its tracks;
For dreams they built these tracks.
Among those who gather after liturgy upon the steps
that lead to heaven, Kapuvar Corvina frightens young wives;
she asks them brokenly, "who brought you here to die?
it Leonid the Lazarus whose blank land like a dream dared
you wake and walk? Where's now that prophet heretic
who for new life claimed his fee in a cabin on a ship?"
Some in such manner each day begin or end.
Only - some thank the Lord - Sunday Corvina comes.
Sunday Corvina their Last Supper wine sours.
Monday she makes her husband lunch
of onion, blackbread rocks, coffee thick.
She rubs the pail, thinking magic - if magic
there is - will bring life. Into the tin pail
whose metal feels of his hard flesh Kapuvar
Corvina who loves Minoviev stuffs candies,
she thinks. Tuesday, she considers tenant Pal
whose words blush the morning empty of large
Minoviev who has not returned from the work;
the poet's bone is her husband's little finger
cleaved at the first knuckle into smallness.
It is Wednesday. Harmoudey the Turk delivers
milk, stops for Coffee with the giant's woman
whose flesh is thick and sweetest cream.
Neighbors bend their midweek curtains
to rouse that dust that swirls in the light
of day then settles back, a whisper of chores
accomplished in domestic, gentile poverty.
Such friendship as is theirs is evil mischief
because they wait and count on some mischief
to be made between sunrise, dust, and settling.
What can a Turk with such a one? What mischief
might be if not giant Minoviev the man she loves
did not bother nights with talk nor touch.
Sleepless, loveless, little Corvina.
She loves who does not bother night
with talk and touches only by accident.
Let me be to you a warming blanket.
Thursday tired from her dreams insistent that
she take one day before Minoviev is forever gone.
Is this why Christ upon the Cross was Friday hung -
so that giants might from work the weekend face
knowing that betrayal was in every ending of a week
when the muscles of young men have stamina
beyond the rest their brains must crave.
Love is a chin measured by revolving sun
pulled along that casts no shadow, so women
must believe. Corvina, says supping Minoviev,
do you remember Lazar Leonidovich who raised
you from the grave, who made you walk, who brought
you for a brideprice to me here when you were young;
ah, how at the wedding your face was white as death.
It was a time of war that unmanned many;
what crime that from the many you found a man?
Now that I am wise; I am old; a trickster is my God.
Saturday he rises slowly so not to break her sleep;
she knows he rises in the dark to rock
in his greatcoat before the cold hearth,
think of those who love his Kapuvar Corvina
and decide himself which she might take;
those on whom his thought has settled
will the giant send her way next week.
She pretends sleep. This one will delight
or this other will give her wealth - a test,
the cross she carries Sunday into Church.
Kapuvar Corvina still Minoviev's
answers before she sleeps that love chains
then drags women to the grave.
Kapuvar Corvina twice in the grave -
beneath the dirt of Leonid the Lazarus and
once again beneath the shamed Minoviev
knows herself that twice is much enough.
So sleep, my grave Minoviev, she whispers,
wraps his greatcoat round him as he sleeps
in the morning before frost settles on his beard.
He simply does not know:
is better single bud
than common weed.
We have walked through dire corridors of death
and have arrived at unwanted survival;
we believed in the beauty of long walking,
but we were betrayed by our destinations -
through cities of darkness, difficult mountains,
when we were walking yes then were we living.
Believed alongside burnt fields in survival,
behind in homes surrendered dwelt dire death
and we had walked from its fearsome dominion,
had arrived to sojourn, to suborn walking -
we the betrayed our backs turned on survival
and our children unchurched we gave unto death.
All else is history.
John Horvath Jr.
If you've any comments on
this poem, John Horvath Jr would be pleased to hear from you.