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Mapping Flesh with Stone

Helen Bajorek MacDonald


They took us;
Tenth of February 1940.

Rude banging at the door
the cold winter night
an executioner's blade shearing
the innocent from their sleep;
three louse-ridden brutes
eyes cloaked by Red Army caps
guns fixed on father
mother crying:

What did we do?
What do we pack?

afraid to ask:

Where are you taking us?

Fifteen minutes: a quarter of an hour
a lifetime goodbye
Select necessities jammed
into a suitcase; papers, photographs,
pots and potatoes tied in bundles
as much as thunderstruck bodies can carry.

Through the night
shivering muffles weeping mothers
silently smothering babies
protecting them from the frost
and their future.


Dozens of bodies crammed in
clambering for a small space
they might kill to keep.

Days become weeks

clickety- clack

roles are assigned:

keeper of the days scratches their passing
on the boxcar wall:
women care for the sick, hopelessly watch death;
men remove the dead, when they can;
children pretend not to be hungry;
the old cry, then pray-- everyone prays for food
for warmth;

God fed and warm
and deaf.


Even in the dark
Even with weakened eyes

we know where we are:

taiga forest swallows lives
a slow ingestion of slaves
cutting, chopping, planing
milking for resin;

- war production -

complicit in Stalin's assault on the Poles.


We crowded the barracks
like the lice on our evanescent flesh.
Each week they forced us
Naked into a Siberian sauna

primitive and artless:

rocks and stones piled round

as a corral with towering walls
fire blazing at the center
women, men, children, old people
herded in for the killing of lice

filth weeps as pitch from flesh as bodies huddle

shriveled from hunger.


One day, the danger of cold meeting hot:

Perhaps thinking a full pail of water would give off more steam
shorten his humiliation

a skeletal man-boy tossed it purposefully
against the heat of the rocks
stones and rocks flew wildly up and throughout
stone opposing skin
a brand of memory.

Back to the September 2001 issue
The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 9/17/01