Five Postcards From Siberia

by Jane McCafferty

You’ll be proud to hear I finally got a job
In Shame City, Siberia.  They almost employed
Me as a tour guide, but I didn’t look good enough
In the hairshirt.  What was I expecting?  I spent
Only nine rubles on that piece of crap.  Didn’t
Think I’d be in this city so long, or would have
Forked over ninety.  I’m still friendly, and believe
I’d be a better tour guide than Boris, who thinks
He’s so great, and really doesn’t belong here.

Never have I belonged anywhere like I belong
Here.  You might like to see me with my cheek
Stuck to the frozen window on the train I take
To work each black morning, and how the snow
Beyond the glass is illumined like an old lover’s
back in a dream.  I work in the foundry where
those who go too far with feelings shovel until
their chests split open, so the sun’s white
eye might penetrate straight through
the red tunnel of the heart.  They say the Holy
Spirit is always trying to row a little boat there.

I keep a tiny Buddha in my pocket.  Sometimes
my hand dives in and holds on tight — I’ll start
crying tears that tell me I love being alive
more than I know.  In the foundry my nickname’s
Chudak, Russian for Odd Duck, and I don’t even
care.  It’s my birthright to be here in Shame
City, Siberia where faces grow hot trying
Not to remember.

I’ve loved so many people, but it was always too
Much, or too little.  In Siberia I often dream
I see my parents and apologize for everything.

When I wake I hear their voices like the birds who
Can’t survive here, and wonder how much
A body can take before it becomes
A flock of birds, and scatters.

Each night, in the forest I sit on frozen needles,
humming prayers.  I pour bowls of shame stew
straight down my gullet, burning myself raw amid
the white pine sisters.  Then I suck the starred sky into me
like a train.  I know if I ever see anyone
I know again, I’ll be a different person,
chastened, restrained, maybe holding a small black dog
with a white collar, who will hear my confessions,
so I don’t have to tell them
to you anymore.