Saturday Poem

The Wars Between the Wars Between the Borders that Were Not There

You had to know how bad the Nazis were
to have loved the Communists.  In 1946,
in that nightmare time on earth, in that place
between the wars between the borders
that were not there, you couldn’t know
who would be more brutal,
you had to take your chances, guess —

If someone came knocking in the night
it could be your neighbor, your enemy.
It could be a soldier come for your daughter
or for your wife, or only bread.
Now, who could betray you,
who would betray you,
on which side should you stand?

There was no safe place to stand.
Some stood in lines and froze to death.
Some marched where they were told to march.
Some set their houses and fields on fire
then fled to the forest and buried themselves.
Many disappeared in this way,
the earth a shallow grave,
the earth turned over, leaking bones.

So, who were the martyrs,
who were the killers,
who was a partisan, your kind?
If you had to choose between blood and water,
there was no human way to choose.
Then, what had been wasted,
what had been ruined
when it was over,
what had you saved?

And if you were far from the burning fields
in a country that made you a criminal,
what made you more or less alive
than the dead of the country you’d left behind?
So, you took the cash that was handed to you,
you changed your name,
you changed your clothes.

What I mean to say is that I forgive you
whatever deal with the devil you made.
I have never gone hungry
except from spite,
never lifted a dead child in my arms.
I have never had to kill a thing I loved
to not be killed.
Listen, I don’t know who you were
but there was a world and you stood in it, once,
then you fell through the door of yourself.

by Cecilia Woloch
Plume Magazine