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Joyce Schmid

Souvenir from the Victoria and Albert Museum

The tile shows a harvester of grapes,

his knife in hand among the vines, a young man

with a medieval face, and everything in shades of sepia

except his shoes and tights in cobalt blue.

He stands in profile--just a painting-- but he seems alive,

in motion like a flash of memory—

you and I in London with our granddaughter—

just twelve years old then, but our i-phone expert

and our guide.

The elegance of movement in the tile

brought back an art print in my college room--

a young Etruscan from a mural in the Tomb of Leopards

found inside an old Tarquinian necropolis.

We see him from the side. He’s striding briskly

in procession as he plays a double flute

four hundred years before the birth of Christ.

That print—this tile—pale visions of the past--

but both alive with long-dead joy.

Back home, the tile broke,

but super-glued again

with just a thin scar, near-invisible.

Not much—a trivet—but I searched

until I found one like it

as a house gift for old friends

we hadn’t seen for much too long.

He brimmed with energy.

She was a little tired, but beautiful,

as if ten years ago she hadn’t almost died.

From Field Post 21002

To Guard Captain Nikolai Feingold, from his brother Semyon, Soviet Soldier,

Town of Smotrych Ukraine, June, 1944

Дорогой и любимый брат

Dear and beloved brother

Ты ждешь вести.

You wait for news.

Ты хочешь знать всю правду.

You want to know the whole truth.

Be sure that’s what you want.

Grass is the most amazing thing.

It looks the same wherever it may be—

green clumps, spots getting thin, some weeds.

It looks like home.

I’m standing at the doorway of our childhood,

now a bump of mud washed out by rain.

Nobody and nothing.

Only trees in the neglected garden, and the lilacs.

Our neighbors did it, Nikolai—

they said they’d been preparing it for years.

The Nazis? only one or two of them—

it was our neighbors

dragged our mother by the hair—

our mother, Nikolai—

her old bare feet in freezing puddles,

forced to dig the cold black earth,

her grandson—little Syunechka,

our Manya’s seven year old son—

covered in it like a seed, alive.

I’m standing on an excavated pit.

The bodies, Nikolai.

I’m told the earth moved on these graves for days.

Grass, my Kolya, is the most amazing thing.

It pokes up hopefully among the stones.

It wants to live.


Note: This poem contains information and some translated phrases from Semyon’s letter, written in Russian.


Joyce Schmid’s work has recently appeared in New Ohio Review, The Hudson Review, Five Points, Literary Imagination, and other journals and anthologies. She lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband of over half a century.


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