Summer 2023 – Day Nine: Total War Meets Total Commitment And As We Depart, A Basement Prison Haunts Our Dreams Still

Darkness

In darkness, we find ourselves. We are tired, angry, hungry, sad.

In darkness, we lose time.

It is midnight, midday, dusk, dawn.

In darkness, we seek comfort.

There are deep breaths, tears, whispers, sighs.

In darkness, we remember.

You, son, are twelve, and daughter, now seven.

This school basement is prison.

We are not here for action or inaction because there was no time for either. We are here to please warriors,

we are here for Yuri, Misha,

Andre, and Nikita

who have orders.

There are seven damp, cold rooms

with broken chairs, cracked blackboards, mops, brooms, buckets and benches,

a hallway the width of stretched arms,

and a cracked cement stairwell to freedom.

Before the Russians came, before sky filled with smoke and fields filled with bodies, we had planned to plant beans. Now, we track each spring day by grinding the sharp edge

of a rusty wrench

on the pale cement wall.

We check off days and weeks

with crayons spilled

from a soiled box.

Each day there are more minutes of soft light blooming through cracks pried loose by mice

through rusty bolt holes in the ceiling,

through rusty bolt holes in the ceiling,

from the bent keyhole

in the wooden door to freedom.

Can I tell you this?

We are allowed to pace in darkness.

We are allowed to count the twelve steps to freedom, each weathered by freeze and thaw, each dented

by years and years of janitor boots grinding sand, dragging pails and bouncing broken school desks

on their way to storage.

And though it is not official, we are allowed to imagine:

I am a father.

I love my wife.

We have two children and a dog named Boris.

I have a brother in Dnipro

and a nephew in Moscow who visits each August. I remember my earnest daughter as a student

in a room above this basement, spelling new words, reading stories, asking questions, studying stars, tracing borders, adding numbers

And though it is not official,

we are allowed to imagine:

the smell of rain, a gust of wind,

the taste of jam, a goodnight kiss,

and the distant whistle of a midnight train.

Our crime, we are told, is living on this side of a river, working at a truck yard, canning tomatoes, swimming in a river,

hanging lights on holidays, playing at a park, chopping wood for winter.

Maybe our crime is believing.

And now I imagine

that my bare feet have healed.

And now I imagine

that no one has died in this basement.

In darkness, we find ourselves. In darkness, we lose time.

In darkness, we seek comfort.

In darkness, we remember.

Duncan – June, 2023