borsht was steaming red
and delicious that day. She carried in
pierosky, sausage, ham and sauerkraut,
mushrooms and poppyseed cake. Father
was already sampling the cognac and
Donald and Richard were laughing like
mad. Uncle Victor challenged me
to drink schnapps. I couldnt keep up
with him. I was already dizzy when he
started his stories, bald head gleaming,
great nose quivering. Who knows why
that day he told us what theyd kept
secret for twenty years. Your mother
built mud houses with her bare hands,
drove a combine, nearly lost Ganya
in a blizzard; they scared wolves away
with burning straw stuffed in windows.
Mother cried for the first time
since I started school in the Italian
neighborhood and told her I didnt want
to be Bronislaw any more. What do you
want to be? Macaroni? she teased.
Now Victor told his own story
and Donald and Richard were quiet.
They took my belt, my shoelaces, my gold
ring. They sent me to prison and I
got sick and didnt know I was in hospital,
the burning pipes, the kind of place
where youre afraid to reach out a toe
for fear of scorching it but your head
is icy. When I got well I had the job
of taking temperatures. I knew how hot
men got in that place, what did they do
with all the bodies. One day I looked out
to the carcass of a bombed building
and saw it full of bodies, tossed-in,
sitting-up, flipped-over face down . . .
Once I saw my father. It was mealtime,
another line, another room. I saw him,
lined up for the same fish soup. I tried
to rush up to him; I shouted, Father, its me,
A door shut between us and that was all.
Now we all cried for what we hadnt known
or asked or imagined. And what
was your fathers name?
Bronislaw, he answered.