The woman working on my ingrown toenail
Bent over me holding her tongue between her teeth
Is often a mystery.
Sometimes I understand her Russian
Sometimes she remembers her newly acquired Hebrew
Sometimes she keeps silent,
Containing worlds and times in her busy hands.
Today she is worried about her mother
Back in Moscow. Perhaps she is dying
And she has lived a life of woe.
There is no radio in the room,
Only her voice droning
Answers to my questions.
One example, I say,
Give me a story from the War
I know so much about.
I am bored: The pain of my toe is almost gone
And I will forget it for another month.
“In the military laundry at Tobolsk--
Where they would cut a hole in the river’s ice
To get water for boiling--
The uniforms that came from the Front
Sometimes unfolded surprises
Like limbs or intestines.
“In the waters of the Irtysh
My mother scrubbed them all clean.
The uniforms were returned the next day
For new soldiers.”