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.”