Flowers For Grandmother


I came to the cemetery in the hazy heat of autumn,
where the crosses creak as they split,
to my grandmother-Maria Iosefovna-
and bought flowers at the gate.

In the era of silent movies Grandmother’s braids
were formed into a tight wreath,
and neighbor ladies in the smoke-filled kitchen
called her the Commissar.

My grandmother beat me very little.
A shame that her hand grew tired of beating,
for, in the opinion of a bathhouse attendant,
I deserved nothing but boiling water.

I teased her cat in utter bliss
to be sure no one called me a sissy.
I swapped her eight volumes of history
for three volumes of Man and Woman.

A great soccer game was at hand-
Yugoslavia versus the USSR-
I filched her gold wedding ring
after hiding secretly in the chiffonier.

And that ring, heavy and reddish,
from Grandfather’s finger, who is no more,
got into the clutches of a speculator
for a mere standing room ticket.

My grandmother Maria Iosefovna,
by merely biting the edge of her lip,
so chilled the soup on the table
it was covered with Siberian ice.

In front of a Robert Taylor poster,
back in ration card times,
she slipped on the ice by the bakery
and lost consciousness.

And with two fingers raised,
white-faced like the Old Believer Morozova, *
she repeated only one thing:
‘Be thou accursed! ‘-and I was.

Hiding behind the primus stove, I thought
that Grannie, for sure, from spite
only pretended to be dying…
She punished me-and died.

To the neighbor’s record Rio Rita
she fixed her stare straight up,
and all the relatives implored me:

They continued to curse without stopping,
from right and left-I was fed up!
But Grandmother’s curse
alone stuck in my heart.

And the ring, staring through the loamy soil,
torments, avenges, and glitters from out of the bones…
Remove your curse from me, Grannie,
don’t be sorry for me, but for my children.

The guilty, gentle flowers I
place on the grave in silence.
It never enters my mind
that their stems are suspiciously short.

By the small gray gravestone,
knowing all that goes on with people,
Mother whispers, so Grandmother won’t hear:
“They steal flowers for resale here…Break the stems…”

All of us are caught up in resale.
Perhaps, I had brought as my gesture
flowers, whose stems had once been broken,
but which had been cut clean at the break.
It makes one shudder in the subway or on a trolleybus
to see a couple, cheek to cheek,
with all the stems in the young girl’s happy hand
covered with cemetery clay.

All broken stems get cut off,
and in the shadow of departed shadows
tragic is the sale of suffering,
but the resale is yet more tragic.

If there is a tiny mercenary dropp in me,
then I don’t belong to my family.
Put a curse on me once more, Grandmother,
and never take that curse away.

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