Meditation on a photograph of the Romanovs, 1913

(Published in Understanding, November 2000)

The Tsars of Holy Russia!
How well you looked four years before your death
The girls smiling, on the boy’s head a sailor’s hat.

Standing in furs, snow hard upon the ground
And behind, a black wood tipped with ice.

Your open smiles defied the world
The private dreams, a family joke
While they waited in the woods.

How blind, to your names
dangling on Rasputin’s silver cross.

Serene you stand, arrogant no doubt, and yet
The elder sister’s hand upon Alexie’s head,
The mother’s touch upon the father’s arm.
And from the woods their burning eyes on you.

*****

Against the wall the family stood.
They fired so many bullets in your flesh
They left the shape of icons on the floor.

Stalin placed his spies in every private heart,
He made a nation of himself.

You waited as a family under earth
For over eighty years picked pure.
The icy winters gathered over you.

To St. Petersberg at last your poor and equal bones:
Do the bells across the steppes ring out
To call you home again?