Don Thompson

Behind the Blue Door
(Osip Mandelstam)

Even the stars sprinkle salt on his suffering.
Mandelstam stumbles along
an icy street in Voronezh—
a compendium of rags, a compost heap,
looking for salvation’s last safe house,
which has no known address.

Death waits behind the black door,
of course, and behind the red portal
of the apparatchik’s office.
The yellow door’s not for him,
and the green one looks too much
like a gravestone vandalized by moss.

But the blue door, fading forever,
suggests the sky on a warm afternoon
walk in the countryside
where no one’s hunting for him.
So he chooses blue,
knowing that they’re all the same.

From Illegible and Indecipherable Notes
Found in a Biography Read Years Ago
(Anna Akhmatova)

Red roses tossed through an open window,
black roses in a goblet:
How can that matter to you after so much slaughter,
rubble, poisonous air, poets
whose mouths have been stuffed with silence.

Roses mean nothing here.  Neither does poetry.
Grandmothers step up to the open mic
and rattle their crockery;
girls recite from smart phones
like gypsies reading their own palms.

But you with your spaniel eyes
and linebacker’s broken nose,
with your grief, your suffering
like alchemy that turned velvet
into moss on a gravestone,
you’re still among us, aloof
and adamant, but tenderhearted.

The Legend of Theresenstadt
(Robert Desnos)

It never happened.  Not in this world
where hard rain on a barracks’ tin roof
clatters like an abacas gone mad
trying to number the dead;

where the mud’s arachnid enzymes
can digest feet
and the mind begins to rot—
sanity eaten away by toxic black mould.

No, Desnos never danced
along the line outside a gas chamber,
ebullient, reading palms that predicted
long lives, many children,
leisurely soaks in the spas of Baden-Baden.

And it never happened, not in this world,
that amused SS guards spared everyone
(temporarily) just for the fun of it.

© Don Thompson

Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks.  For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at

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