ALEKSANDR

The chimney-sweeper king returns today.
His head is wholly wreathed like saints', they say,
in soot and clay, in mortar-dust, as smoke
ribbons behind his work-suit. Can you see?
Over the streets, in paces strangers' feet
have traveled before, many years ago.
How things have changed! Of course the children can't
remember what he looked like when he went.
There are no photographs to mark the growth
from boyish, striking, hardly captain's looks,
now chiseled by the chips that prison took.
Was it from Murmansk, or Mariinsk, or both?
"I have been with it twenty years," he said,
and "What do we know of our lives?" – but death
is what we children knew of years ago,
in mortar, bullets, Black Maria trains
that shipped us each month to Siberian plains
to vanish with the locomotives' smoke.