Photo source: The Great Famine in Soviet Moldova
Prompt: “Usually, we take inspiration from our craft resource, but since our resource is about revision, we’ll go a bit further afield for this one! Today, we’d like to challenge you to write a poem of simultaneity – in which multiple things are happing at once. A nice example might be Emily Dickinson’s “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died”, or this powerful poem by Sarah Green.”
My father stands with his back to the wall, clutching his fists.
The boys are tall. They lower their shaved heads. Show us
your hands, they say. If you’re not hiding anything.
He knows he’ll cry soon. He calls grandma, but she can’t hear him.
She’s trudging uphill, toward the corn field, holding her belly.
My father is three years old. It’s the summer of 1948.
Long convoys carry the Moldovan grains to the impoverished
Russian republic. Long convoys carry the grains
from other soviet republics to poor Russia.
Moldova is a sunny country, its people can survive
on what’s left after the harvest. Grandma has seven
babies before my father. Six of them die during the famine.
Liubomir, the first-born, can take care of himself. My father
looks up to him. Big brother kills rats with a slingshot.
He buries them under embers. Their meat is delicious.
Liubomir catches fish with his own fishing rod.
He made it from a willow branch, because willow
is limber and doesn’t break. If the river wasn’t blasted
out of its bed with dynamite, they would eat fish every day.
Nobody bothers my father when Liubomir is around.
But Liubomir isn’t there. He went to Chisinau to be a dancer.
A bunch of weirdly-dressed people came to the village
a few weeks ago. They had the older boys dance horas
and sârbas. They said Liubomir would become famous.
This morning, my father sits on the bed, looks out
the window. The yard is filled with mud cakes.
He baked them himself. They look like the round loaves
grandma pulls out of the oven on Sundays. My father
bit into one of his own loaves, but it tasted like dirt.
Liubomir would know how to make them taste better.
My father watches grandma get ready for work.
She’s tall and pregnant. Long hands. Drooping shoulders.
She’s Russian, but nobody cares because she works hard
and her family is as poor as everyone else’s. She’s about
to give birth to uncle Boris, who’ll survive his childhood,
father two children, then die in a brawl in his twenties.
Grandma reaches into the cupboard, behind the clay dishes,
where she hid the small piece of bread from grandpa.
He travels from village to village to mend clothes for food.
It’s hot, no one needs clothes, but people take pity on his
pregnant wife, his dead children. The bread he brings
home is dark, dusty, dry, but it’s life. It gets softer
when moistened with your tongue. Grandma won’t eat it
herself. She’s never hungry, though she fainted in the field
twice this summer. It’s because of the sun, she says.
She gives my father the bread, tells him to stay inside
or play in the yard. The other boys watch her leave
for the fields. When she’s out of earshot, they rush
into the yard, they break into the house, find my father
licking his bread in the dark. They want that bread,
they haven’t eaten in days, some of them will die soon.
They kick and pummel my three-year-old father, wrench
the soggy lump out of his hand, fight over it. They don’t know
how to divide what they stole. The strongest will eat it.