The Stalin Epigram
Our lives no longer feel ground under them. At ten paces you can’t hear our words. But whenever there’s a snatch of talk it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer, the ten thick worms his fingers, his words like measures of weight, the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip, the glitter of his boot-rims. Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses he toys with the tributes of half-men. One whistles, another meows, a third snivels. He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom. He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes, One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye. He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries. He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.
From Against Forgetting, edited by Carolyn Forché, translated by W.S. Merwin and Clarence Brown, published by W.W. Norton & Co. Copyright © 1989 by W.S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of W.S. Merwin. All rights reserved.