I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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John taught me to eat an apple right.
Eat the whole thing, he said, core and all.
The core has the most good in it.
He said this in his heavy
Baltic accent: de mozed gude.
My daughter used to call him Dracula.
Here’s Dracula on the phone!
She’d yell. She also told him,
one day, that he had class. He was
as pleased as if he’d got
a military cross.
John’s eyes are
beautiful. He works
at simulating eye contact.
He thinks this is important.
Except for the white cane
you’d never guess.
He was at Stalingrad but claims
that he does not recall which side
he fought on.
John’s war was
mad confusion: First
he was in the Latvian Army,
and then he was captured
and conscripted by the German Army.
He walked away one day
and joined the Russians,
his country’s age-old enemies.
It happened to many, he said,
sitting beside me
in my living room
facing an open fire.
He said that thousands
simply disappeared in that war
and were never seen again: not killed,
so far as anyone knew; just gone.
Mislaid. He himself
lost a sweetheart that way.
She was pregnant with his child.
God knows what army he was with then.
They met in France, loved,
lay together in a church, and one day
she wasn’t there.
Nineteen years later her son
surfaced, flotsam on the ocean of Europe,
and cursed his father for his birth.
At Stalingrad John
crouched in a trench
in the winter rain
beside a friend. A shell
missed him and sheared his friend’s
head off. There I was, John said, and suddenly
his head fell into my lap. What
could I do? I pushed it
into the water in the trench,
forgot about it.
We sat together by my fireplace, eating apples.
I moved to throw the core into the flames,
but I think John felt the gesture.
Don’t do that, he said, and caught my hand.
You must eat the whole apple.
His blind eyes looked at me
Learn to eat it all, he said:
fruit, core, bitter seed.
Marie Sheppard Williams