A Slow Fuse

Some seventy years later
your father, sitting at your table
over wine he savors, last rays mellow-
ing in it, recalls his favorite aunt,
“Just naming her shoots
rifles off again inside the morning
square, rifles she aimed into the air
for certain customers, the pigeons
Handsome, clever,
but with little actual schooling,
she, a Jewess, kept a shop in Moscow,
stocking horse- and battle-gear,
bustling all day long.
braided with his laboring breath,
still prickle inside his nostrils;
like the wayward flickers cast
by lazily swimming,
naked limbs,
leathers polished, buckles, gleam;
and the oats banked in their bins,
heavy August winds drowsed in them,
at one glance, a single sniffing,
the harnesses and bells,
by gaslight starred, send out appeals,
while sleighs collect for midnight
He smitten with it all,
like those officers of the Czar
who, admiring her wit, her seasoned
gaiety, forever jammed the shop.

“Even the city’s metropolitan,
young despite his full, black robes,
took to dropping in on her, his jagged,
bushy beard awag with chat.
One balmy
summer evening, I remember, the three
of us, laughter brimming like wine
(he turned his glass to the lessened
light), relaxed in her snug flat.

The next morning at breakfast,
talk going on as if we’d never stop”—
he, a startled look lit on his face,
breaking in upon himself, exclaims,
the pigeons crackling through the air—
“My God, he spent the night with her!”

He, sipping the last drop, sits
back, as much as he’s amazed amused
to see this special virtue of old age,
the oats ripening only in slow time.

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