russian olive

Russian Olive 3

its shimmering leaves invite the western gardener
as it contrasts with the native plants in the west
something exotic, unusual in the united states
sometimes considered a weed, sometimes an ornament

recently mikhail suprun had been detained
for gathering facts in the russian archives
as one might gather olives for oil
only to find that the russian olive branch has thorns
that threaten consequences for rewriting his story
about german populations in poland and ukraine
who disappeared under stalin

the olive
russia’s forbidden fruit
records on its leaves
marked like trails of blight
cyrillic stains of ink
interred under institutional shade
threatening to be found and exhumed
to uncover russia’s fabricated history

often majestic in the sun and wind
each silver leaf reflects the skies
of a vast frontier of the ancient east
of rugged nobility
they are like ancient sirens
veiling twisted branches beneath
to confound the history of arctic gulags

on the occasion of the anniversary
of the invasion of poland
seven decades ago
by germany initiating the second world war
vladimer putin writes an open letter to poland no less
declaring in defense of stalin no less
that one can not be so sure of history
we each perceive it differently, he writes
after all 27 million russians died
to fight hitler’s advance
so who can blame who?
(he asks of a people that continue
to mourn their dead from stalin’s bullet and sword)

under the olive’s shimmering and slender leaves
hide twisted branches
but also its life giving fruit
yes, here the history of 27 million dead is the same
as the history of the countless dead from poland
left cold in the fields on journeys toward slavery
on the battlefield as conscripts of stalin’s army
at the front door, the streets, the church steps
continuing for generations after the war
and generations before the war
when the concept of being polish
was to be exterminated
putin you deny that our histories can be the same

poland ukraine slovakia
lithuania hungary georgia
czeks slovaks and others still cry
(they have kept their documents too, you see)
as you cry for stalin’s honor
and for those 27 million
in death they share the same history
as our dead
and we both continue living it


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