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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Heart in Darkness

It's late. The Hannukah candles are burning against the dark sky beyond my window. I like to wait until it is pitch black out there so that the contrast is all the more striking.

Seven. Almost bright enough to read by. Barely enough.

Thirty years ago tonight I crossed the Soviet/Polish border for the second time. What I remember is the dark. As before, the euphemistically described guided tour of the train yard and shelter house were offered. There was no refusing. I walked maybe twenty minutes or so in the stultifying cold, hearing every crunch on packed snow, every footfall, On this night I had an idea of what was waiting and fell into a calm rhythm of walking, surefooted on the non-icy snowpack, looking up at the stars. Millions of stars. In a very dark sky.

They knew no boundary. Why should I?

Nonetheless, five-hundred-thousand Soviet soldiers, tanks, armored personnel carriers, trucks, vans, rocketry, and god knows what else were prepared to defend that boundary, to invade Poland, on that night. They were not even exactly out of sight. "Ivan," the lanky guy who had a hat too big so that it kept falling over his face, had his lunch pail. "Have a good day at the war, dear."

Those soldiers: they stayed on their own side. I went west without them.

The billions of stars, falling through this galaxy, lit up long ago, bits of light: the heart in darkness.

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