Friday Poem

Tante Tina Puts the 1991 Gulf War Into Perspective

…………… (for my mother, 1911-2001, whose story this is)

I have a right to be cranky, ja.
I am an old lady.
You come sitz mal here.
Na, a little closer.
I already have to talk so loud
my hearing goes.
But I think still, ja?

One time when I was little still in Russia
in the war, before the unsettling to Canada,
ja, I was maybe five maybe six years old, you listen mal
you're not so busy,
a man to the door was pummeling
at night, his hand bleeding in a torn shirt.
He was dirty, I could smell even,
not like the barn smelling, not like pigs
in spring, like old meat more, wurst gone bad.
His eyes were deep like the broken well with no water.
Mutti took him in, and has him soup gemade –
kertofel and water, it was all.
I was by the stove scared while he is slurping.
And then Mutti him to the bed showed
where Uncle Peter slept before they took him
and Papa. I was so tight holding
to Mutti's rough wool my fingers were aching.

We were just to bed going then,
the candle auss-poosting, and more men came,
krass, loud, shouting even more than you
and Papa sometimes. They grabbed the man from the bed
his feet banging on the floor,
and outside by the barn there was a crash.

The men left and we sat on the bed,
still, Mutti my hand squeezing again.
Finally with one hand she takes me
and a pail with water in the other
like she knows what she must do.

Come, Tina, she says, and we walk through the dark
where the cows were – we have them all
eaten, and Fritz the dog also – and there outside
by the door is the man, like a sack.
He is again with dirt and blood besmeared
so Mutti takes the water and I too
and we wash him. This could be Papa, she says.
This could somewhere be your Papa.
Always she looks over her shoulder.
I am thinking maybe the men will come back
but I am not afraid. Mutti and I are washing
a man who could be like Papa who was taken away.

Papa's face I can't remember
so I look very close at the dead man's face.
I wonder is he a Kommunist or a Machnovski
or for the Czar or maybe just like Papa.
Now anyway he is just a dead man.
Mutti puts him in Papa's clean white shirt
and upsits him by the wall and we pray:
Lieber Gott what we can
we have done. Now You do.
After, I sleep with Mutti under the blue quilt.
I wonder if the dead man is cold outside.

Why am I telling you this? Just listen mal
to an old lady for once. In the morning
I through the shed run to the outside
and the man is gone.
I know God has done something
and I am glad, because maybe he was like Papa.

All my life I carry that inside.
Never I told you. Maybe even I just remember it now.
But today I see on TV here Mr. Bursch
the president. Ja, I know who I mean,
don't interrupt. Mr. Bursch and Mr. Saddam and Mr. Shamir
and Schwartzkopf and Yasser, the whole pack of them
they make widows and blame God, or the anti-Christ, ja?
They want to look strong, because they are cowards.
They are killing men like Papa.
Ja, I know there are reasons,
always there are reasons to kill, ja?
Always the same.

I am thinking some Mutti
is missing her Papa, and some little Tina somewhere.
Maybe he is dead in the road
or by a shed in the sand. She doesn't know.
And little Tina is afraid but she must clean the body
so God can come and do something.

You have a meeting, I know,
but I have seen the pictures on TV
and I am remembering. I must tell someone.
And if not my Haenschen, then who?

Sometimes you young people see only pictures, ja?
You don't know. Sometimes I think a good thing
would be if there were bombs in Washington or Ottawa,
then maybe those men would not be so krass,
but ja, I know, they are like the pharaoh,
until the firstborn are dead, they will not relent,
and even then, ja, even then,
they will not repent. I have before see this,
too many times now.

Okay, you go now to your meeting.
Maybe another time when you come
the Lord will have already taken me.

Say hello to little Haenschen.
Tell him to come sometimes again guitar playing.
The time then is not so long.
Now go once. I have to sleep.

by David Waltner-Toews
from The Impossible Uprooting
McClelland & Stewart, 1995