Matthew Boyle

The Battle of Stalingrad is considered the bloodiest battle in recorded history.
The Axis powers never fully recovered from the defeat.
—Encyclopedia Britannica

The bullet hits the soldier’s chest,
knocks him to the dusty street.
Outside the crumbling church of St. Dimitry,
he hears Babooshka
reading Anna Karenina
on the way back
from Sunday mass.
“Guard Mother Russia well,”
she warns the little boy.
He would die ten thousand times
to liberate Tsaritsyn.
The poster of Stalin
fades from the pile of bricks across the road.
He smiles and shuts his eyes,
sees his first love
and the Kadrill festival of 1917.

Those women in flower-pattern shawls
bow to men in capes.
They stare into each other’s eyes
with the passion known to forbidden lovers.
The men caress their partners’ necks,
dip them to the cobblestone.
The women leap out of reach,
turn and beg the men to come.
They spin, spin until their red dresses
rise up to resemble the steeple bells
that shout the immortality of the white night.
The soldier turns to that beautiful girl,
kisses her

until the square disappears
behind the alabaster church.
The stained-glass saints glare back at him,
whisper of the bomb he placed
beneath his father’s alter
amidst the chaos of that fiery October.


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