The Woman I Loved in the Cold War
I drift back to ’75, December-dark Kolberg,
shore leave from the freighter I was deckhand on.
I wandered discos in search of drink, dance,
any woman rumored loose. Sewn into my peacoat
lining was Parisian lip balm, smuggled for the off
chance I would find that woman, and I did,
claiming she was a shy clerk from a worker’s council.
After the disco, all night the bottle of Soplica slipped
the winter-cracked lips on her windburnt face,
frost starring her wool scarf in headlong gusts that never failed
to whip in from seaward. She spoke little English
and I no Polish. So we laughed at our displaced
tongues, a laughter that caught the ire of police who stopped
to inspect my seaman’s card each time we stepped
into streetlamp halos or neon prisms late drunks
infest, swaying like spent refugees. In the lust-fever we shared
at her flat on Albatrosa, bedsheets clung to us like damp
earth. I told her of my hatred to leave, of my bourgeois
dread of the sea. She wished my ship was stranded there,
icebound at her Baltic port, as we watched the trees
outside her window grow heavy with ice,
the cathedral’s shoulders lean away into darkness. Now,
I think how half a world away, boats are unmoored
from their Kolberg quays, how smooth they glide,
like eyes raised to a mirror, the sighing sounds of her waking city.
I think how you kiss the stranger you dance with, turn to catch
your breath, and come away with blood on your lip.