Two Poems by Lucas Carpenter


Sunday Morning in Kiev

On squirmy steep Andrievski Street
Gallerie Moderne shows Stalin’s social realism,
Giant workers with hammers in their hands,
Rosy-cheeked blondes harvesting wheat,
All for a future that didn’t turn out as planned.
Sidewalk booths feature for sale
A blizzard of pop posters and cheap prints
Like on Times Square, Piccadilly Circus, or the Left Bank
Then watercolors by self-taught Chernobyl victims,
The national signature craft of hand-painted nested boxes and eggs,
Orthodox icons, Communist artifacts, Nazi memorabilia
Still being ploughed up on old battlefields,
Czarist coins and gilded balalaikas.
Elegant restaurants in once Jewish homes,
Doctors, professors, businessmen
Who somehow escaped the Nazis or returned afterward
Only to get out as soon as the government named a price.
The cars parked out front are guarded by black-suited security.
Beggars aren’t allowed. You see them near the subway,
Ancient men holding out shaking hands, pleading,
A young woman with a baby sprawled on the steps down,
Both lethargic like the starving. Both beyond pity.
But big chestnut trees still line the cobblestone street,
Their leaves flickering deep green and gold.
Sunlight sifts down like dust.

Babi Yar

Part of a park now, young couples strolling hand in hand,
Old folks on benches for the rare warmth of Ukrainian sun.
Expanses of lush jade turf framed by leafy chestnut trees
Stirred by remnants of breeze from the Dnipro River nearby.
The Centerpiece is a monument on the old Soviet heroic scale,
Fifty-foot granite figures of the dead and dying.
A chiseled agony of acid angles and sharp lines.
You can barely make out the original ravine,
The bare-dirt gully carpeted with corpses
That you see in the handful of photos in the visitor center
Because the Germans filled it in to hide their mess,
Later covered with turf and left to heal itself.
About 34k killed in the first two days in groups of ten,
Stripped and segregated by sex, as if there was a difference.
There’s a photo of naked women lined up, some with babies at their breasts.
The SS learned a lot here, just getting their greasy killing machine warmed up,
Like how even drunk storm troopers could stand only an hour behind the gun
Before they started trembling, crying, puking, and about how labor intensive
The shooting was, leading to the first experiments with mobile gas chambers,
And how buried bodies could still be awkward evidence, so they started burning
	them
In piles and then in ovens.  They built a concentration camp here the turned out
	to be
A streamlined operation processing thousands a day from warm bodies to warm
	ashes,
Jew, Gypsies, party apparatchiks, mental patients yanked from their asylums…
I can form no other images of the eventual dead.  Their mystery
Is opaque, the darkness visible of industrial death:
What we will do to each other when we can, when the time is right.

Lucas Carpenter