The Russian

I

The Russian had the heart of Mother Teresa
I'd lean into the bar with head in arms 
& kick the copper panel after school
til the soles of my shoes fell out
while she did dishes on the other side

she'd ask how I was 

young & sad 
those things were hard to shake
especially as a pair


II


The days crawled along in the shadowy spots
I was parasite 
we lived off broken cookies 
crumbs at least
we could call ours


maybe the Russian needed somewhere to go once 
when she was young 
somebody 
must have done her well

she'd ask how I was


I learned to sweep 
& wash dishes


III


The Russian had patience eternal
she'd look after 
any stray that passed through
it made for an island 
of hotheaded misfits,
dejected saints,
broken toys


winters were harsh 
the few of us huddled in the garage 
with the resonant snow slapping up against it
in soft piles


all the women 
who passed us by 
felt the scorn
on our tongues


IV


She would stitch me back together
every few weeks
& recklessly
not well adjusted to the fit of lightness 
I'd return with torn hands


I wished things easier for her 
earnestly 
that was beyond me 


I washed the dishes
swept & mopped 

every night 

once the quiet rose
a cool mist set on our little chunk of earth
find solace in a cigarette
sometimes 
even the moon


V


the Russian was big sister


the house of cast offs was a kind place to suffer
beyond that 
maybe even
to learn a little goodness


VI


I got better
at being light-hearted

who we were 
was unimportant


VII


engraved into the brick keystone
above the back door

'time stop
for not nobody
godamit'


the Russian quit the cafe 
she brought over bags stuffed with bread 
every week
from across town


one of the old men started bringing by bottles
he was proud of his memory
that would change in a few years 


VIII


they'd come by 
& lay heads on the bar
or stand in the street
& shout to god
or walk in shadow 
& haunt my nooks


while I did the dishes


I started eating suffering 
for every meal 


down the line
an ulcer
or somethin’


IX
 
I was a monster sept into every crack in town 
many houses learned my name 
& it tasted gunpowder,
proved just as inflammatory


my gluttony knew no end


X


I was still trying to figure out 
what the keystone meant
by the time my name was carved into the countertop next to hers
church was long over


The Russian must have gotten tired
I'd try to tell myself 
her patience must have waned
now&then


last I heard
she walks strays
at the animal shelter


XI


When the years descend on us like buzzards & the city all eaten by tides we wrought


A modest statue 
to commemorate 
that kindness
kept the kids alive