The tank column moves east in the snow.
You cannot hear them at this remove,
High above and at an oblique angle:
The ‘bird’s-eye view’, much favoured by mapmakers.
There are no birds, long gone to the south.
The sky is empty and will remain so for months,
Excepting attack planes and bombers,
Nowhere in evidence this evening. Nothing aloft
In this weather. The tanks continue on,
Covering great distances across the snow-covered grasslands,
Loath to stop lest their engines seize up in the cold.
The tessellation of tank treads vanish nearly as soon
As they are made. Nothing blocks the way ahead.
Nothing is gaining upon them from behind.
Their turrets judder in the fierce crosswinds.
Snow quickly covers any sign of their passage.
This is a lacuna, whiteness, between what was
And what is about to become, in countless volumes,
In rack upon rack of grainy newsreel footage, history.
Flanked by Chevau-légers Lancers
In slate blue tunics with crimson facing
And a squadron of Neapolitans,
Resplendent in sky blue and yellow parade costumes,
Led by Prince Rocco della Romano
Known, among the ladies of Vilna, as Apollo Belvedere,
The Imperial Convoy sets off in the night,
The Emperor swaddled in bear furs
And alongside him the Duc de Vicence, Caulaincourt,
Recording the great man’s every observation.
Behind, following in three sleds, the Grand Marshal,
Grand Equerry and Count Lobau,
And, riding horseback alongside, hard by the first sled,
Roustan, Imperial Mameluke, and Wonsowicz,
Brought along to translate into Polish.
Racing on past Vilna, shedding men and horses,
Picking up replacements along the way,
The convoy speeds across the icy wastes,
Outrunning the Cossacks, turning left
At Nieman bridge, their store of wine bottles
Exploding as they go, each like a pistol’s report,
They arrive in the Tuileries in just two weeks,
Before midnight, and bearing news.
And far to the east, under the ice
And snow, at the bottom of Lake Semlovo,
Abandoned on the retreat from Smolensk,
Almost the entire treasure of Muscovy:
Porcelain, amber, jasper from the Urals,
Candelabras in the Japanese style,
Samovars, armour, silverware,
Along with the little precious things:
Enamel kovshi, snuff and powder boxes,
Bracelets, earrings, amulets –
Of every kind, so numerous
And of such a value as to be beyond reckoning.
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