Black Snow

We barged along the silence
of that winter. Wheat fields
labored
in the choke of ice.
 
By the barracks my father
shifted from foot to foot.
Nothing else moved
in that frozen country.
My mother, stock-still and angry.
My sister and I, motionless.
Motionless, other soldiers.
 
By the barracks he swayed
with eyes half-closed,
damned by each swig
of fiery palinka.
So are all soldiers, they drink,
there’s no swaying from it.
Is there, sir?
 
Around my father the snow was black.
He swayed and strayed so
one couldn’t tell
whether Mother was afraid
that he’d be shot down in battle
or, maybe, she worried
that he’d never be shot.
 
In reserve, from the barracks,
my father little
by little
stole for us,
bringing home flasks, leather belts,
green coats, army backpacks,
long johns and heavy boots,
cutlery and metal plates
on which we melted sugar for dessert.
 
My favorite
was a wide leather belt.
Father showed us
how to attach to it
a hand grenade.
I wished so much
he’d bring a grenade
home.
 
In the end, my father was never drafted.
He idled around the barracks
and when he came home, he’d bring
it all with him.
No longer a reservist,
something in his bones
still needed him
to drink.
 
From then on, my father
wanted nothing,
neither mother nor us.
Nor himself.
He tried to darken his dark eyes
even darker.
He drank so much palinka
he couldn’t stand on his two feet,
he stumbled into doors, into walls,
he stumbled in the streets.
And with him, the whole world
swayed and stumbled.
There was nothing that could prop
him up.
 
The winter was dark and frigid.
Ice choked the rooftops.
The villagers smoked the meaty clouds.
That winter, they say, Albanians were burned
inside the waste incinerators.
They flew, these Albanians turned into smoke,
where the sun ought to be, turning
our winter dark and frigid.
 
And I stood still in that
frigid, dark winter and
stared at my father
who swayed and strayed.
I stood in one spot
but achieved nothing.
Swaying, my father spilled
something from his bones,
all around me.

TRANSLATED BY

Valzhyna Mort & Owen Good

The Continental Literary Magazine - Issue 01 - Prejudice
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