Seven Poems
    Zdena Heller


And Then Again . . .

1941

Pushing me a little she said,
You are too big to sit on my lap,
my child.

That was the summer
my sister was born.


1981

The customs door releases a small
woman my eyes donít recognize
but my heart throws itself

at the bars of its cage and thatís how —
after thirty years of separation —
I know my mother.

Every night after dinner she
invites me to sit on her lap
to watch a TV program she

cannot understand. I sit sprawled
on top of her until I cannot bear it:
I'm too heavy for you Mother.

No, no, she protests from the depth
of the armchair, stay where you are
my child.


Wild Geese

Mother flew back to Prague last night.

I lie in her unchanged bed
facing the empty square
of grey February sky
when harsh cries explode
above the roof — wild geese!

I follow their circling sound
until they land under my window
and settle into a contented cackle;
I know they are nibbling
on the sparse winter grass.

I pull the sheet over my face,
inhale my mother's scent
and remember her
saying, Wild geese will bring
luck to your house.


Alone in the Morning

Without mother in the kitchen
the morning is metal — gray and heavy.

I sit in my high chair staring
in the ice-cold mirror, watchful

for the pale vaporous ones
who pounce on you from behind.

They crouch in empty corners
with huge open mouths yawning

the unknown, their mournful eyes
watch and watch and follow. I must not

look away. Won't someone rip open
the featherbeds of the sky,

let the down drift softly —
bury me — hide me? I must not

breathe. Even a single feather
rising would give me away.


A Morning in Prague: March 1939

Early in the morning a child
holding a jar of yogurt stands
on the curb in her city.

Wet snow is falling. The jar
is wet and cold, too big for her hand.

All round her people press to watch
slowly advancing unbroken stream: ash-green
cars, trucks, soldiers, soldiers —

On the sidewalk all, even the policemen
in their silver-trimmed uniforms,
weep silently.

Soldiers in open trucks sway —
this way and that —
the rifles propped between their knees
aim at the sky.

People watch the soldiers,
the soldiers stare at the people,
their eyes donít meet.

Motors rumble on and
from the threatened skies
wet snow keeps falling.

Among the shards on the curb: a small
white mound, red strawberries.


Prague

      This little mother has claws.
            — Franz Kafka

I was born to one called The Golden,
The Hundred Towered,
The Blue-Nighted Little Mother

I was born to war-paint my cheeks with gold
to raise my fist in a hundred protests
to always make another wish when the blue
night bursts out with stars

I was born to join her other
children's cry: TRUTH IS VICTORIOUS

Yes, and I still defend that lie


Sunday Morning in Prague: Again

St. Jakub's clock
has night and day in its keep

Ding — Ding — Ding
The nocturnal sound
measures my sleep

One — Two — Three — Four
Not waking I count
But what is the hour?

                    Dong — Dong
"It's two in the morning and all is well"

At eight St. Peter's bells start to peal
then
           St. Anezka
                     St. Kliment
                                 St. Jakub
                                            St. Mikulas
                                                      and then Tyn
a river that rushes my dream

I'm humming with song
ding — dong
float-floating on a stream of honey
sweet farina
raspberry jam
Sunday veal roast
walk in the park
           pink
                     peony
                                 petals

red sandals run-running
through ether of mock-orange
Grandmother's blueberry cake
bring-bringing a blue smile
rocking to heart's ding dong
smile-smiling on
Sunday morning in my
home-home city


In April

TUM-ta-tum, — , —
my heart always knows
before I do
The doctor says
We have decisions to make this morning
and TUM-ta-tum, — , —
comes dying

Cup of tea in hand
you and I watch
a bright-eyed dove
explore the rusty lantern
It's spring
she has nesting decisions to make:
ooh-ah-woo-woo-woo
Why so mournfully?

                                I think
                                we have to
                                 let her go,
                                 you say

                                Your mother
                                My Naomi

In the limbs of dead trees
watchful crows sharpen their knives
Soon there'll be nests to rob

It's spring
We rush into
the tumult of life
then: Caw-Caw-Caw


Zdena Hyblova Heller, born in Prague, escaped from Czechoslovakia at the height of the Stalinist era, then while still in her teens and early twenties wrote in Czech for Radio Free Europe in Munich. In the U.S. she has worked as a contributing editor for Spotlight Magazine, and published with Condť Nast, the Gannett Newspapers, and Parade Magazine. Her short stories have been published by New Rivers Press, and her poetry has appeared in Blueline and is forthcoming in The Paris Review. She holds an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College.
 
 

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