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Sunday, May 14, 2023


by Robert Darken

Five-year-old Vladimir Putin with his mother, Maria, in July 1958.

You too were once a child.

Learned to lace boots, the rabbit round the tree.

Slung school books in a sack, 

crunched snow underfoot along the river,  

the Neva black enough to swallow dawn.

Rain dripped from the larches.  

There was only you–

your brothers ghosts before you were born.

One died under siege,

a casualty of co-conspirators:

Nazis, starvation, diphtheria.

You learned German, loved the clarity of Marx.

When the many act as one, they are an unstoppable engine.

Be sure to bury dissenters.

The bond of unity is their blood. 

Your grandfather knew who to serve:  

in the scullery, spiraling skin

from potatoes, simmering Stalin’s own soup.  

And now there is you: eyes lidded like hangman’s hoods, 

a smile like razor wire. Fingers that drum 

commands to missiles and men.

There: another apartment block, its insides clawed open.

There: the wet pavement, the body of a mother 

in her bright kerchief,

Beside her the body of a child, 

rain falling on its open hand.

Originally from the Midwest, Robert Darken now resides in Connecticut, where he teaches high-school English. His poems have appeared in One Art, The Orchards, and Red Eft Review.