When the knock comes, it will be long ago.


D. Nurkse

The tanks from the Past rolled in this morning.
Our neighbors crowded the curbs to cheer
though only yesterday, they were snitching:
A has prior tendencies, B has backward dreams…

Already the old flag flies over the armory,
the cathedral, the courthouse, Mercy,
Parliament, Beaux Arts, a kindergarten.

Already we tell ourselves, “The Past rules,
but if we hold our breath we’ll emerge
safe in the present, vindicated, knowing
we’re steadfast, we passed the test of our lives.”

Troops file by, numberless as ears of wheat,
gray with ash, so tired they give off light,
eyes locked, forward, forward, never a glance
for our linden-shaded side streets; and we watch,
we force ourselves to peek, or not peek,
we part the curtain a hand’s breadth, a thumbnail.

At nightfall, gunshots in a distant suburb,
dry, faint, adamant as a cat’s cough.
For every twelve firing squad volunteers,
rumor claims, one is issued blank ammo:
so even in the Past, there must be shame.

Nothing happens fast. Rain of decrees.
But you can still get salt and whiskey
if you pay with a necklace, a deed, or boots.

Butter is rationed, then shoelaces, then spoons.
Lice return, roaches and rats: raccoons
rummage unchecked in a brimming dumpster.
We tell ourselves, “Vermin: this story is familiar.”

When the snow falls in its own silence,
spilling forwards, like blood in bath water,
and there is no heating oil, we think “childhood.”

Alone in the privacy of our triple-bolted room
we open our fingers and peek: yes, yes, the soldiers,
still advancing, bowlegged mountain boys
bearing the insignia of the Interior, tranced in cadence:
sometimes one stumbles, careens, topples forward,
but the boots march over him, the drum never pauses.

When the knock comes, it will be long ago.

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