Janice D. Soderling
The Montréal Review, March 2011
"Spring" by Vsevolod Andreevich Bazhenov, oil on canvas,
31.5''h x 39.25'' (
Vail Fine Art Gallery )
He stepped into the room like the fog drifting down.
Damp-palmed. Brylcreem on his slicked-back hair.
He wasn't from here.
Had peculiar likes. Horseradish!
said one of her aunts, miffed. He asked, did I have any horseradish?
I guess green tomato relish ain't good enough for some people.
Well, who could imagine anyone liking the things he liked?
He filled every empty space, displaced
the air in the thin china cups waiting on the sideboard,
the air in her little lungs,
the air in the fine crystal vase no one was allowed to touch.
His heavy breathing filled the little pauses
between Would you like some more, Royce?
and Don't mind if I do. He pried into the thin, tight spaces.
Like dust, it all drifted under the rug on the polished floor.
At the Execution Pits at Dubno, the Ukraine, October 5, 1942
(according to the sworn affidavit of Herman Greabe, manager of a German firm)
It was, you see, a matter of liquidating Dubno's 5,000 Jews. My foreman
and I went to the pits to watch the Einsatz commandos work. The Jews
were transported from the town by truck. They climbed off the trucks,
undressed, and placed their clothing at the assigned location: neatly folded
streetwear, underlinens, shoes of all sizes, even from toddlers. The S.S. man
supervising the undressing held a dog whip. From behind a large earth mound
came, at regular intervals, a volley of gunfire followed by a shout for the next
batch. The S.S. man with the whip counted off twenty more and ordered them
behind the earth mound. A girl, slim with black hair, passed quite close to me.
She pointed to herself and said, "twenty-three years old," then disappeared
with the others behind the mound. The next batch was already being counted off.
Apples mummified on bare branches.
Crow hieroglyphs on a snowy plain.
Melancholy scrawled in imperfect light.
Through the dead of winter, the dead walk quietly,
carefree, with cold smiles, clutching their cryptic pain:
refusing us, still and forever, all explanation.
I know it's far too early
to think about it. All day
a powdery snow has fallen.
You take what you get.
I know it's far too early.
Yesterday another roe deer
lay beside the gravel road,
stiff as the frozen grass beneath the ice.
To think about it all day
-death, I mean-is hard.
I clean the cupboards to distract my mind
and in the dark recesses find regret.
A powdery snow has fallen
on their memory, but look,
this tea mug made by Jane, a vase
that held John's dozen roses.
We got what we took
that spring when we were young
and sappy and everybody friends.
I try not to think about it.
Jane lithe and doe-eyed on thin ice.
John full of lies and sperm.
We flew. Then came the fall.
It's too late to think about it now.
Janice D. Soderling is a previous contributor to The Montréal Review. Other Canadian magazines where her work has appeared or is forthcoming include Studio Journal, The Centrifugal Eye, ditch, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, Event, and Windsor Review . Recent publication at Protest poems, Soundzine, The Literary Bohemian, Literary Mama, Orbis, Acumen, Boston Literary Magazine, Fiction at Work. Blue Unicorn honored her with the Harold Witt Memorial Award for 2010 Best of Volume.