Scratching out The Castle, plagued
by hemorrhoids, boils, and the TB
uncoiling in his chest like a viper,
how he envied those warm bodies
at Spindelmuhle whizzing past
his window, all schnapps and good cheer.
Did he lie at the bottom of the slope,
black limbs twitching air, target
of catcalls and apple cores?
My situation in this world
would seem to be a dreadful one,
alone here on a forsaken road.
Did he dream of hurtling
down the trail, bowler hat,
stiff collar and scarecrow ears--
then relax into the schuss
of it, snowplough to stem christie,
stem christie to parallel turn
as he swoops into the sky
shedding jacket, coat, and hat.
Look, a child cries, a flying Jew!
Walking to Moscow
My older brother sets off for Moscow
wearing thick boots and a thin scarf.
As he leaves London, sleet falls.
He reaches Harwich in a few hours
and walks over the English channel
past astonished ferries. 1990:
he writes that Germany seems full
of people standing in squares
as if listening to important speeches
or deaf. In a Munich campground
a fat man with sad eyes rests
his hand on my brother's knee,
invites him to his tent to drink
Pilsner and listen to Schubert lieder.
My brother refuses. In December
he runs out of food
and begins to consume his past,
starting with his childhood.
My brother never arrives
in Russia. Our grandfather waits
at a crossroads in Kajanadoc
in his old peddler's cart
whose loose wheel will soon
spin off and kill him,
raising his lantern
as it begins to snow.
Our living room and dining room are gone,
as is the Garden Room where I would play
the sick piano, bored on my half-terms,
while Mr. Sadler sweated on the lawn.
He'd tip his cap and shift his eyes away,
muttering Sir, and I would turn beet red,
knowing I was younger than his son.
I helped him pick our apples where they lay
beneath the tree, checking the worst for worms,
their musty bulk rotting the garden shed.
I find the study where my parents worked,
desks side by side, hers in a messy pile
of papers, Freud's complete works, a small fern.
My father's desk was neat. I often lurked
until he left and raided his velvet file
for drawing paper. It put him in a rage.
He'd shout at me until my shoulders jerked
with tears. Then he'd recover, gravely smile
and say he was sorry, but I had to learn
the hidden cost of every wasted page.
My mother's room smelt faintly of cologne
and medicine. Surrounded by her books,
she lay in bed with all the blinds pulled down,
pretending she was talking on the phone.
She used to joke about our firing Cook
but still served Campbell's soup day after day
then crept upstairs to have a bite alone.
In later years her chap would catch my look
at table, quickly tie his dressing-gown,
and help her clear the dirty plates away.
The owner leads me up the creaking stairs.
Perched on a step, I'd read for hours on end,
picking the worn green lino into shreds--
our family never went in for repairs.
My fingers trace the banister round its bend
past the landing to my bedroom door.
I open it expecting stained blue chairs,
the broken spacecraft built for my best friend,
my vampire collection, typewriter, bunk beds.
We put our kitchen on the second floor.
I sit down at a table of stripped pine
and force myself to look. The room is bright
with sun cascading through the window pane
and cheery with a warmth that isn't mine.
It used to get so dark in here at night
I made my mother put a light outside
the door I had to close when I was nine.
My hand shakes, spilling tea. Are you all right?
I nod, but at the cracked sink once again
I rinse my eyes, like the day my father died.