Winter In Another Country by Ai
published in Poetry, March 1980
I was born in Cologne.
That word again: Cologne.
I let my mouth fill with it
as my mother did
when the pains began
and that word was black currant jam
on her tongue.
The sweetness filled her,
as the iron bed painted gold gleamed,
as the cottage began to spin,
as she herself spun
on the sharp end of nothingness,
until even her brunette hair had become blonde,
her skin, her irises blonde
and she became her own memory.
I wake beside the wicker basket
I slept in years ago.
Did it happen,
or did I dream it all, Mother?—you,
the dove flying into my forehead
the moment I woke,
and pain as the beak broke through skin
and then the smell of roses.
And petals falling to the floor
from the wound in my head,
as I bent to touch them,
as they disappeared
into petals and late snow
as I stood beside your grave, Mother,
when I was twenty.
I was an orphan.
Why couldn’t I accept that?
Didn’t I have everything?—
that freedom from past
people had died for.
I stand back from my desk
and stare out the window.
I put my hands against the glass.
Cold. Snow. Winter in another country.
I blow on the glass and watch it fog up,
then I draw a cross on it
and circle it with my finger. The world.
One red line intersected by one black line.
and where they meet, a grave
and in that grave
bones wrapped in a coverlet of rose-red light—
Just bones and a name and words:
Eulalia Mornais, who loved to dance.
Born 1882, died 1913.
God carry her to Paradise
and dance there with her immortal soul.