The job of a poet is to sit in the morning at a desk
and sift through the news that crackles with other peoples’ lives.
The job of a poet is to imagine entering those lives
like putting on someone else’s clothes.
The clothes pinch. The clothes are pinched for food they are pinched for drink they hope.
The job of a poet is to imagine a control line
with deciduous or coniferous trees trampled grass a face behind a burdock leaf
some eyes some chinks on the body of the border a poet must imagine the sound
of wet shoes and the feel of wet socks on both the left and the right ice-cold foot.
The job of a poet is to examine words and phrases distrustfully and poets ask themselves
because who else can they ask what does the body of a woman with non-Slavic features mean
a poet must try out these words and wonder if the poet’s own body was found
near the control line would the handwritten report describe the poet’s features as Slavic
The job of a poet is to try these words like the slipper on the weary Cinderella
on people whom the poet loves and whose features are sometimes completely Slavic
or somewhat non-Slavic or not Slavic at all; a poet must try these words out
on the poet’s own mother who also has certain features a poet must try these words on her hair
eyes nose against that dead body with its dead look try them against her living body and alive look
and this makes the poet go cold at the desk.
The job of a poet is to discern in the words visible traces of a corpse being dragged from Poland
to Belarus not just the contours of a map but also broken twigs torn
blades of grass a silver snail trail next to a sole its entrails smeared
on a brown leaf; a poet must visualize a beetle that momentarily stopped
on its six legs seeing a corpse being dragged from Poland to Belarus and then turned
back swaying slightly; a poet must feel and smell the wet meadow rotting bark
and the touch of metal because
the job of a poet is to read that next to the body were three children between 7
and 15 years of age as well as a man and an older woman and a poet cannot stop
reading but must continue stumbling through these wet and muddy lines
and a poet must try being ages 7 and 15 and all the ages in between
in that place in the woods that place of darkness place of dampness that place
where the corpse was dragged a corpse that is the corpse of the poet’s own mother
about whom it is hard to say if her features are Slavic or non-Slavic a poet must try being seven
years old standing next to the mother’s body as it looked then a poet must try this.
The job of a poet cannot stop here so a poet reads on that
they were forced to walk on foot to the border and then to cross the Polish-
Belarusian border at gunpoint that is the metal; a poet must think about how
a corpse is dragged is it pulled by the armpits or the ankles is it pulled
with gloves or bare hands do the hands lose their grip along with the wet and muddy shoes
in that place of darkness in the woods; a poet must think about whether the shoes the blackberry brambles
the burdock the eyes of the children between 7 and 15 years of age the eyes
of the man and the older woman are in the way whether the holster or the walkie-talkie presses
into the ribs whether any discomfort is felt whether the uniform pinches is soiled or dishonored.
All this is the job of a poet and it goes on all day and then the poet goes to sleep and
dreams about escorting children between 7 and 15 years of age at gunpoint and escorting
a man and an older woman at gunpoint and dreams of trying on contaminated clothes and
dreams of trying on a uniform and trying that cold thing that terrifies one in bed
and dreams of returning home after a night’s work in a car with a bobblehead dog on
the dashboard and taking off his pinching uniform having food and drink and watching the children
who in the dream are his children they are the children of the uniform and they are between 7
and 15 years of age and he watches his wife with her Slavic features and armpits by which
her body could be dragged and ankles by which her body could be dragged shoes sliding off
and the poet never wakes up from that cold that mud those woods.