In the Sanatorium

It was after the war.
My father lay in an Austrian sanatorium,
his lungs full of tuberculosis.
Next to him, a young Soviet veteran
needed to confess to another Russian.
He had done something terrible, he said.			
In Kharkov, before the Germans came.
Under orders, he had taken enemies of the state,
shoved them between two stopped trains,
and burned them to death.  Then swept away remains.  
Could he ever be forgiven for such a sin?

How could he know, that tormented man,
that my father’s father was one of the dead?
What chance that these two men would lie, 
shushed to sleep by nurses, bed to bed?

My father, unable to respond, simply averted
his head, refusing to grant comfort.
Riven, six more decades, between two ghosts:
one wasted from coughing, pale; one burning.
Both beyond any word he might have spoken.

Copyright © 2014 by Anya Silver. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 8, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

About this Poem

“‘In the Sanatorium’ is based on a true story. While recuperating from tuberculosis, my father was confronted by a man who had in most likelihood been one of the men directly responsible for the political murder of my grandfather during Stalin’s purges. Until his death, my father regretted not forgiving the man, though I would contend that forgiveness was not truly his to give.”

—Anya Silver