Comrades in Fear

Anca Vlasopolos

At four
they made me memorize four lines
in praise: Dear Comrade Stalin,
Powerful and Good
I paused after each line.
They held their breath thinking
I had forgotten the rest
When it was over, I tried to leave the stage,
saw no way out save the sharp drop,
the sea of laughing faces,
voices from the wings hissing, “Get off,
you’re done.”
At last I saw my mother’s arms stretch from below
and jumped.

In the same year the radio let us know
Stalin was dead. My mother clapped,
face fierce. She came back from the office
a black band on her arm she ripped off
as she passed the threshold.

A woman in our apartment house
sailed forth in full regalia, black veils
streaming, purple cheeks, eyes red.
Weeping, she accosted my mother in the courtyard,
who tersely said, “We must learn to console ourselves.”

Nearby the dug a ditch, I now think, for a cable,
then, I thought, for Stalin’s grave. My friend and I
conferred, avoided walking on that side, knowing
that if we peered inside we’d see the mustache,
the khaki uniform, red star.

Statues come down and towns take back
their older names. And still I wonder
how many stages trap the bewildered child,
what ditches harbor what ghosts of power
that make children on the way home cross the street.

March-April 1992, ATC 37

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