This poem is a memory of the Polish Martial Law – 1981.
My mom’s cigarette in the kitchen, a bright speck against the window’s dark void. It illuminates the perimeter of her anguish The window – its white frame – it divides, no, it cuts up the world in black and white. Even I know the dichotomy of good and evil. Inside, her potted plants next to my dolls mark the edge of a windowsill. Outside, the world veiled in white deceives me - the tanks hide behind the corner Kyrie Eleison A man on TV wears sunglasses on a wintry Sunday morning. The words he says don’t make sense to me. My mom though, she cries. It’s early December, but there is no more school or work for my mom. My dad is taken, and he is not the only one. There are rumors some were shot. We cannot send telegrams, and the borders are sealed with the neighborly troops on standby. There have been sights of blood on the snow. Domine Jesu It’s February, each street corner has acquired a new purpose. Where I used to play hide-and-seek, Behind a store with no food in it, uniformed men keep fires day and night. My mom’s cigarette - a trembling firefly in her fingers. Her lips tight. I don’t dare to cry. I never go outside. Lacrimosa It’s been four months and my dad hasn’t been home. The streets are empty. The ashtray filled to the brim. Mom’s gaze not steady, she avoids my eyes and my questions, “not now, I cannot talk.” The kitchen window’s her repose and torment. The edge of black-and-white. Sanctus It’s been ten months and my dad hasn’t been home. Now the national anthem is my lullaby. My ivory sheets and pillows piled high host a fortress with a captured monarch. Armed guards deprive him of food in my fairy tale fantasy that plays in front of my eyes. I sleep safe at night, while the cigarette smoke shields me from the dragons outside at all times. Dies Irae I swallow my dinner in a hurry to expedite an army of white knights before the dusk to the abandoned fortress of linens where the detained king resides. It’s past ten when we hear the sound of the footsteps. My mom’s face suddenly pale. “Are they coming for us?” I wonder. But the steps behind the door fade away. Outside, the night roosts like a solitary blackbird. Nobody’s there. Libera me, Domine I hear, the world outside has shades of grey but that does not apply to those who marched with their banners high. They are still held hostage. We don’t know how long and where. In the realm of one-party allegiance The press plays fanfares to applaud the progress, we hear the nation is doing great. Yet, my kitchen window still remains the edge of two worlds. Black and white. Kyrie Eleison One day, an unshaven old man arrives at our doorstep. His body bears semblance of the one I called my dad. His eyes - the starless pools of untold pain. Odysseus’s back. My dad is gone. The days seem normal now. Yet, when the night falls my dreams inhabit monsters with claws that pierce through the milky whiteness of the sheets above my head. In nominee Domini and when I wake up in the middle of the night and cry the man whom I am getting used to the man who cannot sleep like me the man whose memories keep him awake tells me stories from a farthest gulag. And the lingering smoke stains the white walls a dirty yellow. Benedictus Copyright 2020 © Monika Sokolowska Birch