national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2011

Translations of Wolves

Leah Gallant  • 
Swarthmore College

1.

It was a war like any other.

One night the village danced

to the time of the fiddle; the next

there were only the sounds of smoke

and black boots. In the morning, doves

cooed among the ruins and next door

sparrows hunted abandoned walls.

Papa burying the family silver

under the startled chickens.

Mama weaving us

into the slack walls of her skirts,

Mama pinning stars onto our forearms.

The soldiers out walking their wolves.

 

2.

We fled into the forests.

In the hush we waited, in the dusk

and the smell of cold. We knew only

the shelter carved into the hard

ground, the tattered snow. Ate roots

until our teeth kept time in the darkness.

When it was light enough we searched

the interlace of branches for signs

of our futures: no ark, no apple,

only a soldier dressed as a wolf.

The women turning into pillars of salt;

the women turning back into ribs.

 

3.

Auf weidersehen, which meant

farewell, which meant

through the slats of the boxcar the land

rattled by, which meant the silver

stayed in the dirt, chickens

kept watch in the treetops.

Blut und Boden, which meant the ghettos

emptied, which meant the camps filled,

which meant names burned down to numbers

and smoke and nothing at all.

Auschwitz, untranslatable.

Kommen sie doch mal her, bitte,

which meant Onkel Mengele

selected twins, which meant

wise children slept into stone;

but there were no skirts to hide in,

no treetops to watch from, which meant

alignment on marble tables,

color injections into irises,

glass ground into wounds.

Black stitches ran the lengths of our joined sides.

 

4.

Salt on our forearms.

Soldiers dressed as startled chickens.

The sounds the village danced to

meant farewell, which meant

forests. Mama burying the women.

The interlace of sounds and smoke

which meant farewell, which meant

the hard ground, which meant

the wise children.

One night kept time in the snow.

Ribs turning back into fiddles;

the pillars of hush. We searched the branches

for signs of a wolf, a dove, cold.

War like any other boxcar, which meant

black boots. Sparrows next door

meant silver. Doves carved shelter

into skirts. The women turning

into teeth. No ark. Mama pinning

Auf Weidersehen onto our forearms.

The mornings like any other wolves.