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 Michael H. Levin: Poems and Prose  

LENINGRAD, 1942

(Irina, during the Siege)

Last year I turned eighteen

you know. To celebrate we boiled

our cat. He was fatter than us

from rats. A stew seemed right

to hide what we ate. That

was November,

lives ago.


Dawn, cold. Dusk, cold.

Thirty below, all our furniture

burned. Darkness hammers

the brain. We droop like sails,

wind gone -- even troops, even

Komsomols. One can’t

any more


tell she from he:

wrapped mummies, moving

more slowly, layers sinking

in on themselves. Families go

out and just don’t return – dozens

each day, face up on the Prospekt,

toes glazed with ice. The dead

don’t need boots.


Who knows where they’ll lie

when iron earth unfreezes?

Now no one’s buried. They stack up

in courtyards, feet sideways,

hard as oaks. Some piled by graveyards

have cutlets for markers: insides

of thighs carved


away. Of this, no one speaks;

but we venture by threes against those

sleek with smiling. It’s plain

what they feed on.


O what will become

of us, beautiful city -- my Venice

of beasts and death? It’s been snowing

since ever. The sky pours down slush.

Each garbage-filled alley says danger


the streets crack with thick

shifting ice.

Version first published in The Raven's Perch, 18 Feb. 2021

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