Katyn (a poem)
Located near Smolensk in western Russia, Katyn forest was the place where Stalin's NKVD executed thousands of captured Polish reserve officers, as well as a number of civilians, in 1940, the year before the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Stalin's government always refused to acknowledge the executions.
The soldier stepped out of the pines, and walked
to the centre of the clearing, and knelt
and dug a hole, a long
shallow hole, with his hands,
and lay down in his hole
and covered himself with dirt
and had a heart attack.
This happened five thousand times, maybe
more, in Katyn forest, in 1940.
At the Cheeky Kumara Cafe
we choose a window table.
Threshers the size of tanks
level a field of wheat,
a field of barley,
and three moths stick to our window.
They are scraps of paper,
scraps of thin yellow paper,
Polish army stationery issue,
scraps from the same page of a letter,
from Leszek Staff's last letter to Gertrude Boll,
written in Smolensk, on May the 5th, 1940,
and torn up by an NKVD intelligence officer
who got hard reading about troop movements
and resistance cells
not a pair of silk lace stockings
slipping off freshly shaven legs
in Krakow Municipal Gardens.
You stir the last of the sugar into my tea.
We know how to dispose of our dead
correctly. Follow that gravel road
over a train track, then up a small hill
until the fields part for a red-rooved chapel
and its flock of stones.
Every name there faces north.
Out the back, behind the water tap,
are plots reserved for the elderly, the infirm.
Red earth foams over the newest graves.
This afternoon the reverend's out
making his rounds,
and relatives are at the races.
Nobody is there to see Leszek Staff
stagger out of the barley, and fall
to his knees, and dig
for four minutes, in the soft red soil,
and lie down comfortably
to die, to be discovered. Outside the cafe
a truck backfires.