One year in Washington DC
a girl I got to know
said she came from Germany.
She looked quite like Bardot.
And her first name was Brigitte
(rhymes with bitter not with sweet)
and though things turned out bitter
we met for walks, for drinks, to eat.
In a little while she let me see
her total tan, breasts, belly, legs.
And that Easter Sunday in DC
she brought me Easter eggs.
She’d painted all the eggs by hand
with folk-style whorls and flowers
in the manner of her fatherland.
It took her hours and hours.
Daddy took my hand to guide
the brush’s gleaming tip
and held it firm when fuss outside
might make me smudge or slip . . .
I stuck out my tongue like this
(I knew that tongue quite well)
to master all that artifice
we both lavished on the shell.
The eggs in an ashtray by my bed
with their gay patterns made me glad
but, on our next date, Brigitte said
I should know more about her Dad.
Before you get too fond of me
I’ve got something to confess,
she said that April in DC
in her Yves St Laurent dress.
If her face said it was bad,
when the words came it was worse.
My Washington bedfellow’s dad,
she said, was Rudolf Hoess.
Though I hugged her when we said goodbye
I couldn’t face her after that.
Though I still admired the artistry
I squashed the frail eggs flat.
In Poland I saw where she was shown
to make yellow out of onion peel
and they’d decorate the eggs he’d blown,
the Kommandant, with cochineal.
Delicate execution learned,
helped by sticking out her tongue,
where millions were gassed and burned
and egg-dyeing Dad was hung.
No doubt she still tops up the tan
on bronzed belly, breasts and legs,
and dreams one day she’ll find a man
who won’t smash her Easter eggs.
Sitting in the ferry’s stern, my son, my Dad,
with a gap where I’d been till I took these snaps.
Both wear fur hats I’d brought from Leningrad
in Cold War days before the Wall’s collapse.
Dad’s, though his mates mocked, got lots of wear.
On his Leeds United terrace his bald head
was kept snug in Siberian brown bear.
My daughter’s got his hat, but Dad’s long dead.
My son’s was made of rabbit and he gnawed
the fur off it in clumps when we saw Jaws.
He didn’t need it in the locked hot ward,
his visions frightening as the First Gulf War’s.
This snap’s a snatched but happy family scene,
bright New York winter sun between two showers
shining on both of them, and in between
the World Trade Center’s unbombarded towers.
Send Letters To:
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN
Please include name, address, and a telephone number.