May Day, 1986

Sarah Maguire

for Tadeusz Slawek

Yesterday, the weather in Warsaw
was the same as London’s: ‘Sunny; 18°’
(sixty-four Fahrenheit). I am sitting
in a walled garden drinking gin,
the fading sky as blue as this tonic water
loosening its bubbles against the flat ice.

What is in the air? The first midges;
a television three doors down, its hum
like this lone bat avoiding the walnut tree.
A dog barks. In other houses lights come on –
the street an Advent Calendar opening
its doors. This house is in darkness,

its seven windows admitting the night.
I’m trying to read Mansfield Park, to learn
how Fanny finds love and a mansion
through keeping silence. All week
the weather report has plotted the wind
leaving Chernobyl with its freight

of fall-out: cancer settling on Poland –
the radio-activity an inaudible fizz
in the cells, rupturing thorax or liver,
the intimacy of the bowel. They say it won’t
reach here. I stare at the sky till all
I can see are the dead cells of my eyes,

jumping and falling. It’s too dark to read –
only the flare of a late Kerria japonica,
trained to the wall. I think of your letter
in my drawer with the handkerchiefs,
one page torn by an earlier reader. Socrates
distrusted writing, its distance from

the grain of the voice. I come indoors
to write you all the things I couldn’t say
a year ago. Later on the news they will show
gallons of contaminated Polish milk
swilled into sewage, a boy crying
at the sting of iodine he must swallow

against the uncertain air.