"Stalin's forced collectivization and an artificially induced famine in 1932-33 led to the loss of several million lives."
Ukraine, Grollier Encyclopedia
For me, it started when we placed my son on the cart--
pulled by one sagging horse--
on top of a pile of bodies, his belly swollen,
eyes unseeing, limbs protruding through slats.
I'd been watching for weeks as Alex's cheeks sank,
eyes of innocence became brooding lanterns.
When the Russian soldiers cleaned our shelves
his eyes started scanning--nooks, fields, sheds.
He'd disappear, return with shriveled apple cores,
bones with meat shreds, jars with jelly clots.
I knew where he'd been by dirt under his nails--
red soil from fields, where he looked for seeds
missed by soldiers when they raked it clean,
to destroy our crop. I saw the light fade in his eyes
when we were blocked at the border
separating our Ukrainian from their Russian soil.
Alex kept looking back at the guns
waved by the Russian border patrols.
We were forced to return home with a few plants,
jars filled with stream water. The roots
we chewed couldn't keep his flesh from fading,
his breathing from growing
weaker each day. One day, it was gone
when I tried to kiss him awake. He died
one day before his mother. "He needs me,"
she kept saying until the cart lurched away.
They say it may not return.
I better start digging her grave myself--
maybe wide enough for two.