Bronislaw

Mother’s 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 couldn’t 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 they’d 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 didn’t 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 didn’t know I was in hospital,
the burning pipes, the kind of place

where you’re 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, it’s me,’
A door shut between us and that was all.”

Now we all cried for what we hadn’t known
or asked or imagined. And what
was your father’s name?”
“Bronislaw,” he answered.

 

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