After four months of training with the Soviet Airborne Brigades
in weapons, tactics, signal communications,
map reading, artillery, gas, and maneuvers
a young man falling
from a plane 8,200 meters above the ground
forgets the thick slur of the plane engine.
In fifty years, he will embarrass his granddaughters
by sounding out Morse Code messages
for thirty minutes straight at the West Point Museum.
But there is no one to signal to
as he's accelerating at 9.8 meters per second squared.
His only instrument, which doubles as a weapon
is his own hardened body.
Armed with the Soviet Airborne Forces Mission—
"To disorganize enemy command and control,
to secure terrain crossings in enemy rear,
landings of naval infantry and river crossings," 1
the paratroopers meet with wrecked railroad tracks and bad weather,
their white parachutes turned beacons
for German anti-aircraft fire.
As the young man falls, it is all
in the air—
In two months,
two and a half fingers gone from
his left hand, two from his right.
He marries Galina, the somber village mathematician
who keeps him from jumping into
the swoon of moonshine and the Communist Party.
Putting on his grey fedora, clutching his matching bag,
he waits in line for fresh milk to bring to his grandchildren.
His daughter takes him to the States,
preventing him from falling into
the torpor of widowerhood, the daily tedium
of goulash, visits to his dead.
Ukraine's black earth, so good for harvest,
is broken to the point it bleeds.
Tiny beetles scurry in its cracks,
crawling all over his toes, grasping little granules
of the world he carries to send them back to earth.
The earth receives his warmth, and in exchange
gives him a hush of buried voices, and the shrill trembling
of voices yet unborn. It gives him over
to the slow and unrelenting
hand of time, a small bird's wizened claw
scratching a broken map into the earth,
in the late spring air,
ready for take-off.
1 Lieutenant Colonel David M. Glantz, The Soviet Airborne Experience (Combat Studies Institute: Research Survey No. 4), 40.
Natalya Sukhonos is a San-Francisco-based poet, academic, and educator at AltSchool. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard and speaks 5 languages. Natalya hails from Odessa, Ukraine and calls New York her second home. Her poems have appeared in Dr. Hurley's Snake-Oil Cure, the Yellow Medicine Review, Middle Gray Magazine, cahoodaloodaling, Emerge Literary Journal, and Empty Sink Publishing. She is also an expecting mother.
KJ Hannah Greenberg
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