I’d never been aware how beautiful my house is
until I saw it burning,
my schoolmate told me, who had twenty pieces of shrapnel
that remained deep under his skin after the war.
He wrote me how at the airport he enjoyed
having upset the customs officials who couldn’t understand
why the checkpoint metal detector howled for no reason.
 

 

I had never been aware I was a nation
until they said they’d kill me,
my friend told me,
who’d escaped from a prison camp
only to be caught and raped by Gypsies
while she was roaming in the woods.
Then they sold her to some Italian pimps
who tattooed the owner’s brand and number on her fist.
She says you cannot see it when she wears gloves.

 

I recognized them in a small town in Belgium.
They were sitting and watching the river
carry plastic bags, cans,
and garbage from the big city.
She was caressing the hard shrapnel lumps
through his shirt
and he was caressing her glove.

 

I wanted to say hello
and give them a jolly photograph from the times
when none of us knew the meaning
of House and Nation.

 

Then I realized that there was more meaning
in the language of silence
in which they were seeing off
the plastic bags down the river
than in the language
in which I would have tried to feign those faces
from the old photograph
that shows us all smiling long ago.

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