The children of Chernobyl
arrived in Madrid. A busload
of albino ghosts. No hair,
no eyebrows. They were shown
on the early evening news. And again
on the late evening news. In the papers
we could see photographs.
Give us today our daily press.
The children smiled
into the cameras.
Showed off their new clothes. Waved
with their new teddies, rabbits and dolls.
They will go back. To what?
Kiev is a ghost town. Not quite without
people, certainly full of shadows glowing
in the dark. Remember the radio-active cloud
which poisoned the moss preferred by
reindeer? The winds unfortunately
were not in our favor.
The lift opens to the hall of the flat and what seems
hundreds of balloons hugging the cream-coloured
ceiling, their strings an instrument or curtain. A child
slides on socks along the marble floor. The one whose
birthday it is receives her parcel wrapped in pink
and silver, only another jacket from trendy ‘peek-a-boo’.
Nannies and maids busy making the hot chocolates
and triangular sandwiches, rinds cut off. Mothers
and grandmothers chat about the friend of the cousin
of the son of the ex-minister, and where to buy
those retro-design boots, inspired by John Wayne.
Cariño, te voy a llevar. I’ll take you there.
Outside wait the chauffeurs near the SUVs.
As I watch and listen, I remember a small brown hand
holding a frayed rope on the other end of which
a llama trots with ill-concealed bad feelings,
brown shiny cheeks painted a blue-red
by the extreme cold on the Altiplano. Sandals
made from rubber tires, snow on the pebbled path.
The poncho gives some warmth, the multicoloured cap
knitted by Granny with love and intricate patterns
covers his ears down to his chin. He’s bringing the animal
to the adobe house where his mother cooks for the tourists
who may just leave a dollar or two. I buy a couple
of earthenware bulls, small enough to fit into my rucksack
and powerful enough to protect me from evil.
The Goths outshine the Anoraks. But there
are more of the latter. Ten ukuleles
presented by the local wood-turning
workshop. Raw jazz reverberates
from ruined wall to crumbling stone: Our darling
Emma sleeps here. Followed by the dates
which make me hold my granddaughter tighter:
11th April 1856 to 15 May 1860.
is almost three.
We sit around a large table making
new friends. The graveyard empty
of ghosts and full of children’s laughter.
Near a slippery log of wood a poster
nailed to a tree: this pond is deep.
Mr Mukherjee is Dead
Wore a blue and white striped apron,
came after us with the wooden spoon,
carried it like a warrior’s sword,
raging in Hindi.
We provoked him into action
with great hilarity, splitting like
fast mice. We always knew how far
Mr Mukherjee would follow us, his tormentors.
He would not leave the shop long enough
to suffer further humiliations.
He’d probably hear our laughter bouncing
back from the walls of the old parking lot.
Never any other name but Mr Mukherjee.
Sometimes his quiet wife would
be behind the counter, colourful sari,
bindi, and deep-red, broken finger nails.
She hardly ever looked up.
Shuffling in worn-out slippers
across the shop floor,
she never spoke.
Someone told me later that Mr Mukherjee
did not allow her to learn the language
of their new home. Full of rage, he’d pulled her
by her hair from a reading and writing class
given free to immigrants.
Someone told me later why they’d
left their home. Mr and Mrs Mukherjee’s
two small children were clubbed to death
in some unpronounceable border town
between India and Pakistan.
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm, after traveling widely settled first in London, later in Madrid, now lives and works in Lima, Peru. Author of two novels and a poetry collection (TANGENTS), her latest poems have appeared or are forthcoming in US poetry reviews. Toe Good Poetry, Poetry Breakfast, Burning Word, Muddy River Review, Pale Horse Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Other Rooms, Requiem Magazine, Full of Crow, Poetry Quarterly, Punchnel’s, Avatar, Verse Wisconsin, Naugatuck River Review, Boston Literary, Ann Arbor and others.