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Poetry by Iris Dan 

Iris is a translator living in Haifa, Israel.





© 2008/2009 Iris Dan




Old Russian Dying in Israeli Hospital


His body had begun to collapse at the same time

as that of the Soviet Empire, events in which he took

a fitful interest. The old country

he had understood well: had known

how to get a loaf of bread  in times of shortage,

where to buy stolen wool for a sweater

(in the new country, such skills were in no demand).

He was acquainted with Russian death:

once she had come for him over the field 

at the time of the summer solstice,

wearing ribbons in her hair, and enticing him

to lay with her in a haystack; once she has come

as the green-faced Rusalka, promising to turn for his sake

the Volga River into vodka. Although more than tempted,

in both instances he had sent her to hell.



                                                About sterile, technological death

he knew nothing; therefore,

he closed his eyes to the machines,

shut his ears to their hissing and groaning,

prayed that the son would return safely

from the next war, as he had from the last,

that the daughter would not be widowed

and the grandchildren orphaned.


                                    Son and daughter waited outside

locking horns over the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

The brother said the end of history was nigh:

no more war, etc. The sister promptly replied

that soon the world would be torn into patches

like an old shirt. Each thought the other

was talking nonsense. Both were afraid

that they would not know when the children

needed new shoes; that they were as inadequate as parents

as they were as children.


                                    A nurse walked into the room

to confirm death (later the daughter said the nurse 

seemed to carry a scythe on her shoulder)

but the old man had withdrawn too far away from the machines

to be aware of the event.






Gas Masks


Remember that winter

when, apart from our handbags,

briefcases, umbrellas, and shopping,

we were also encumbered by gas masks?


After lavish start-of-the-year,

end-of-the-world parties

we retreated to the tribal womb.

By night, masks within reach,

we stayed in our sealed rooms,

watching the same news; by day 

we dragged them around in their drab cases.



Children took them to school;

cabinet ministers to TV interviews

(how economically, how neatly

they could make their political point

if they were forced to reach for them

in the midst of a sentence!);


Masks of prostitutes and masks of clients

clashed together between sand dunes.

Masks dangled from Red Riding Hoods' shoulders

disturbing the cake and the wine.


Remember all those people in the concert hall

with the gas masks, like oversized phylacteries,

covering their faces, while a mask-less,

fearless Isaac Stern went on playing?

We were proud of our simple and cultured,

we were moved by our politicians. However


after a month or so,

we got fed up with all the tribal coziness;

we wanted our uniqueness back

we wanted, in short,

personalized gas mask cases.


Need identified, we got them

in all their splendid variety: black gas mask cases

to made proud a British civil servant;

pastel colored ones for maidens;

sequined ones for Cinderellas;

Cinderella-ed and Mickey Moused ones for children.


We inscribed them with appropriate captions,

"In spite of all, business as usual",

"Would you like to have a good time", or

"We have no one to trust, but our father in heaven".


Scuds and Patriots crossed each other over our heads,

Hitting this, missing that. Now and then

Someone had a heart attack. On top of all that

The weather was awful.


But there we were, making a statement.








My great-uncle Karl definitely was no war hero

If not for his honorable father he would, in fact,

have deserted his Emperor and crossed the then-border

with a bunch of bad characters


But my great-grandfather said

my son is no traitor to the fatherland

so off Karl went to the Italian front

where he failed to receive one single

citation for bravery, making debts instead


His older brother, my great-uncle Sigmund

(apparently a believer in positive reinforcement)

brought him a very fancy trench coat, 

together with a phosphorescent watch

on which to measure time left


Thus attired my great-uncle Karl

sat down in the trenches to read a trashy book

every now and then interrupting his lecture

to look his phosphorescent watch in the face

perhaps trying to catch a glimpse of himself


an instant before

without a thought to the Austro-Hungarian Empire

he most ingloriously died

hit by a World War One shell

at the age of nineteen.















All work is copyrighted property of Iris Dan.




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