Maria Jastrzębska’s latest collection is At The Library of Memories (Waterloo Press, 2013). Dementia Diaries toured nationally with Lewes Live Literature. She co-edited Queer in Brighton (New Writing South, 2014).
What about the soldiers? What of them?
When the later ones came, how did they seem to you?
They were grown-ups. I don’t know.
They had rabbit fur ushankas and heavy coats.
Yes, they sat in the square. That’s it?
They wanted bread.
Did you give them any? My mother gave me some
to hand them.
They were carving birds.
Out of lime wood, I think, because it’s softer.
I gave one of the soldiers some bread
in return for a wooden bird.
I used to run with it, my arm stretched
high above my head.
One of its wings broke off.
But all through the war, through grey sky,
over blue oceans, over green lakes and rivers,
red dots of capital cities, brown bumps
of the mountains around and around
the astonishing globe we flew together.
The Jackal Is Considered By The Meeting
The Curator sighs: the same arguments every time.
The lobby who say the public needs
enticing in, not more recollections of ill-treatment.
So in fact a side-striped jackal cub,
even though it bit and scratched a little, seems ideal.
Children would love it. They would want
to pet it just as Verusha Grigorova’s five children did.
No one knows where they found it.
Or knows which streets in Tbilisi they wandered through
on their way home from school. (Afterwards
they said it had been sunning itself behind
the Russian barber’s, asleep on a heap of rubble.)
Only that they brought it home and hid it in the yard
feeding it portions of their khachapuri, till one day
sweeping out the corners their mother screamed –
she’d found it tied to the apricot tree with a pyjama cord –
dropped her broom. The cub whimpered and she wailed:
Holy Mother of God, what have they done this time?
I’m forced to take lodgers and iron men’s chemises.
How am I to feed my children?
Let alone this wild animal? They begged her
in all the languages they knew, in their native Polish –
in best schoolbook French, in Georgian, Russian –
to let them keep it and here the memory fades
and what we know is that as adults two were imprisoned,
two shot and the middle child, despite being released,
quickly developed consumption. All five of them
dead within ten to fifteen years even though
when the revolution came – sisters and brothers –
they’d found themselves on opposite sides
at a time when it’s said jackals and people fought
for meat left on the bodies lying on every street.
[Both poems were first published in: At The Library of Memories (Waterloo Press 2013)]
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