Poetry: “Velikiye Luki” by Michael Sandler

When arthritis made her wince, she muttered
the town name as metonym for a cold, crowded prison floor—
a journey, world war, and privations away
from the woman I knew: wizened in a faded dress
at her dining table in L.A., her magnifying glass
big as a saucer quivering to parse the newspaper
for a back page item about the old country—
but the missing never appeared,
and she refused to talk about the mass pits of history.

She did admit a longing for her horsehair divan and samovar.
Sundays, hosting friends, she’d steep
a chai sweet with currants and pro-Kerensky chat—
until someone ratted, and the Bolsheviki had their scimitars out.
Condemned to death, but commuted, cooped
in a dark, stone cell block, released
in the October reprieve, my grandma lived with shadows…
and the family got out. As a kid, I liked to suppose
the missing, left pointing there and there, were shot.


* This piece was previously published in the Fall 2016 issue of Pennsylvania English.

Michael Sandler’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, most recently in Zone 3Willow Review, Caveat Lector, Off the Coast, Fourteen Hills, Forge, The Tower Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review and Fogged Clarity.  He lives near Seattle.