Travelling With Books Could Save Your Life

Drafted to fight the Nazis, my father took a suitcase
full of books. The war would end in a few weeks,
at most a couple of months, said Our Father in the Kremlin.
Among the books was a German grammar.
Learning languages was a lifelong hobby.

Preparing for a month-long trip, I fill my suitcase
with Martin ChuzzlewitThe Italian Renaissance,
A Sportsman’s SketchesAn Anthology of Sonnets,
The Iliad, the last four issues of The New Yorker.
I remove Martin Chuzzlewit, and A Sportsman’s
Not The Iliad. Just bought a new edition.
Should I reread Confessions of Felix Krull?
(Is it time for rereading, when there is so much still unread?)

What other books did my father take? Some in French,
I’m sure. The poets Tiutchev, Lermontov, Pushkin.
I see him reading after a day of manning the cannons.
Learning German to read Goethe, Mann, Schiller
in the original when he returns.

The Battle of Stalingrad over, the surviving soldiers were
ordered to assemble 300 miles north. One night my father,
worn out, hungry and resigned to dying in the freezing cold,
was asked by an officer if he could speak German.
Luck and God were with him that night.
After questioning the terrified young German soldier,
my father asked if he could stay overnight in the dugout.
With The hell with you! he was motioned to a corner.

Like my father, I do not travel without books.

Helen Tzagoloff was born in Moscow, the former Soviet Union. Her poems and short prose have been published in, Barrow Street, Blueline, Poetry East, the anthology Interpoezia: A Stranger at Home, and other literary journals. She was a first place winner of the Icarus Literary Competition, in honor of the Wright Brothers. A book of poems, Listening to the Thunder has been published by Oliver Arts & Open Press.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

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