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Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles…
Adam Zagajewski

My father dreams of Stolin,
as he rides the giant tractor in the Siberian taiga.
He worries for his mother, sister, brother.
Have the Nazis already come?
He is a prisoner, five thousand miles from home.

Ysterday I found him in a photograph
dwarfed by the machine, and mother,
who remembers everything, can’t say
how this picture came to be.

She was his godsend and he saved her life,
he liked to claim. This is how fate works its surprises,
how the days of his sentence for a crime never named
stretched into years. Then without warning
more rumbling on another train of exile from tundra
to desert, the roof of the world.

I tell this story to a lover, long ago.
We’re sitting on my balcony,
on a boozy Montreal eve. I’m showing him my atlas,
along with lots of leg, tracing my parents’ journey
through pages cluttered with the cross-hatch
of mountains. I find Fergana, explain how
grapes grew big as ladies’ fingers,
and pomegranates were squeezed for the juice.
We are thirsty. We like how our tongues feel
when we say Uzbek, crepuscule. The sky is purple.
We are about to kiss.

People ask where I’m from, and I wonder how far back to go,
how to explain that Stolin means all that is forever lost, but remains,
in the dark shapes of absent loves that visit me, in dreams:
war is again brewing on the roof of the world,
my parents are tumbling across continents.

From Between the Doorposts, published in 2004.

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Updated 20 December, 2020

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