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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.

Two roads,

and where they meet, a grave

and in that grave

bones wrapped in a coverlet of rose-red light—

you, Mother.

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.

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