Siberian Life

We traveled in sub-zero Arctic weather, 
bundled in cotton-lined coats and fur hats, 
to labor camps in remote detention villages. 
There we gave first aid to the exiled Europeans 
who were beset by plague and disease.

The people here suffered from frostbite and 
the crushing burden of stressful hard labor. 
Theirs was a difficult, miserable life--
constant insults added to their misery.

We were welcomed with warm greetings, 
their single link to the outside world--
they all wanted to know how the war was 
going. Are the radio stories about Hitler's 
reign of terror true, or just Soviet propaganda?

We carried (by memory) names of relatives, 
separated from their families, sent to other 
gulag camps. Sadly, most of our inquiries 
received sad answers: "committed suicide"--
"died from typhus"--"perished in the mines."

Four of us traveled together--a Polish nurse, 
a Ukrainian driver, a Russian watchman, and me. 
On the way back to our clinic, the others were 
drinking, singing, or telling jokes. With the tragic 
lives of the exiles fresh in my mind, I only cried.

Copyright © 2002 by Herman Taube. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press, distributor for the Dryad Press. All rights reserved.