Portrait of a Girl, 1942
Based on the Jan Lukas photograph of Vendulka Vogelova, taken a few hours before the young girl was transported to a concentration camp.
I am the mirror for one who speaks;
these fresh gaps are wind in the linden trees,
cotton flowers of life. A mirror is not much
for all of us, but if we listen for reflection,
the clear twin face of a groan behind the looking
glass, we hear the cat's hair sounds of all people
grumbling in the same manner about the air
the food the earth the sidewalk.
I am the mirror for all the world's silence,
and the ones who slipped through without drawing
blood, whose suicides number nothing next
to vast doors too tall to reach heaven, locked
forever, whose breaking takes generations,
sometimes, dull copper paint on the back of a lake.
I am the mirror for one who is trembling
like a child who has noticed too much, eyes
hard olive pits. I think about how life
cracks when the vanity glass overturns
our hands. Sharp pints in bars. Uneven edges
of ale. Crisp indignities of foam.
I am the mirror for all who choose
not to speak. I crack
in the dark. I shine in the snow.
The woman thought she would be good,
making sure he washed,
rescuing black stockings, wood pile
scraps. Finding theatre tickets
and collecting parking stubs.
She thought she would be good
at using his soap. Remembering
not to wear perfume and waking
up to call home. In the hotel,
hiding while the hot water ran,
her heart compact as plywood.
She thought she would be good
at belonging. The bulk of her time
a two-by-four dove-tailed into a corner,
getting the best he had to offer.
She thought she had a talent for being aloof.
On him, she made few demands.
When he was away, she imagined
his heart open, fearless
hands holding a piece of wood steady
while a diamond-point blade cut through.
Men jackhammer the corner of Jilska and Mickalska,
disturbing the air's intonation. The exposed
sewer pipes, inches from open graves, lie like illness.
As we watch, morning beaten from bodies escapes
in a white whirl of cameos, sand, and milk.
Here, Rodina means nothing.
A skull, embedded in a dirt wall seems, for a moment,
as white and round as bread. Jaws, on metal stands,
tagged with numbers, wait for a turn to be whole again.
Here, dates are rounded to the nearest hundred.
Tarsals, femurs, ulna, open-pored
bones like coral, spinal cord beads
on strings, legs bowed, dried marrow
dark as tunnels, joints like fists, teeth.
Here, there are no pebbles of prayer left behind.
All is traffic, swollen construction, boroughs
and picture taking, stripping the city's bark
blind with concrete.
Not what I want. So, leave this place
and take me where bones don't mean treasure, where the air is heavy, where graves
are planted like corn rows, and evening settles like water.
Take me where stones are full
enough for stones and death is a long rope
wrapped around kin I cannot have,
wisdom for the hungry, thumb-prints
for the innocent, tombs for generations.
Take me where memory makes my legs move.
Take me where moss holds language.
Take me where we have a name for the things we do.
All poems © Copyright Millicent Borges Accardi 2016