Napoleon Enters Moscow, 1812


Shadows of the city’s crosses rippled
on the crowd that fled the square.
My mother, on my back,
told beads.
They dropped into my collar,
jiggled on my neck.

The autumn was so warm that year!
My neighbors, moving through the streets,
stopped sometimes and squinted at the sky.
We breathed warm fragrance
even in the rising dust.

At Dorogomilov,
toward the bridge,
on the bridge, blocking the bridge,
thousands quitting Moscow’s skirts
before the French could
force themselves between her legs.
We saw an old man fall.
His body became stones in the street.
My mother sighed “Alexei!”
and wept into my hair.

 That night, far from town,
we walked in a soft rare dark
and marveled at the spectacle of stars
that fluttered close
and golden,
while the city curled behind us,

Linda Frye Burnham 1972

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