Iris is a translator living in Haifa,
© 2008/2009 Iris Dan
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but the old man had withdrawn too far away from the machines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.
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,
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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