Issue 154, Spring 2000
Sad is Eros, builder of cities,
And weeping anarchic Aphrodite.
W.H. Auden, "In Memory of Sigmund Freud"
Two thousand orphans, real ones and children of
Jewish deported parents, so you and your
ill-sorted Red Cross wartime colleagues
made it your business to feed and save them.
Blackout: You hacked up dray horses killed in the
air raids, and brought the meat to the orphanage:
black-market lamb a butcher comrade
donated, you told suspicious children.
Interned in '53 as a Trotskyist
you underwent a double mastectomy
for "lumpy breasts": chloroform was the
one anesthetic used in the gulag.
Pain wasn't something you ever dwelled upon.
Most probably, your breasts weren't cancerous—
Tubercular and convalescent
you were excused from the mines and road work.
So you were put to work in the bindery.
You'd bound a Russian engineer's personal
notebook in a silk scarf you'd hidden:
proving your competence (proof you loved her)
and every evening, you warned the prisoners
who was in danger: punishment, overwork.
You'd sworn, of course, you read no Russian
—just a Hungarian female convict.
When I knew you, you liked your flat chest: you had
two inside pockets sewn in each suit jacket.
You and the engineer exchanged long
letters: your model for prose was Chekhov.
Your six-room Buda-side-of-the-Danube flat
reminded me of rooms in the Bronx that were
East Europe reinvented, purplish
overstuffed furniture, steamy laundry
hung in the bathroom on a contraption with
pulleys. You drank me under the table each
night; I could hear you, every morning
back at the typewriter at six-thirty.