On the Morning of the Execution

The Morning of the Streltsy Execution

My grandfather often looked after me as a child.
In our play, I propped him up
like an immense boy with a lazy heart
as he climbed onto a wooden chair.

His crooked fingers—splintered tips,
rough skin from years of handling steel,
dipped into pencil shavings on a rotten palette
and with precision stroked the familiar walls.

Leaning close he pressed his carved body against their cool.
While working, he whispered some Russian tale
of Czar Ivan The Terrible—something
about his paranoid frenzy and the murder of warriors.

I loved to watch the inky curves of charcoal
breathe stories into the stale wall paper.
His hands made love to his confinement
until there was no more room for life.

Without him it was hard
to remember a reason to stay.
Guests sat on boxes and odd pieces
of furniture. Most huddled
in empty corners keeping near
to capture little heat.

My grandmother, incessant,
poured steaming tea from a rusty samovar
she knew she’d have to give away.
Everyone bundled and wrapped in skins
ruffled like nestling geese, sat down at last
and raised their feet—good fortune for the road.

No one spoke
too cold and saddened by the effort.
Our things were dragged outside.
The private scent of our home forced out
to the empty streets covered with snow,
pink in reflection of early twilight.

Feeling my way from one wall to another
I lurked behind the debris of junk.
My skin hungry to sponge every pattern,
every smeared line of cloak, gray face,
wrinkles, and messed hair of a stout man
dropped to his knees, hands tied at his back.

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