Souvenir, Monument


On a low dusty shelf is a trio
of Matryoshka dolls bought
from a sidewalk vendor in Leningrad,
a stone's throw from the Winter Palace
where a small crowd had gathered around
a young bear in chains: fur matted,
eyes glazed over, likely from some
sedative. Crossing a bridge guarded by four
stone lions, I entered a small bookstore
where I found a copy of The Great Gatsby
in Cyrillic and a blank journal
with a picture on its cover of the Church
of the Savior on Spilled Blood—
its jewel-encrusted onion domes built
after Alexander II was assassinated in 1881,
when a bomb was tossed into his carriage.
In the country where I was born, there are
many sites that pay similar homage
to the memory of some hero or martyr
whose blood trickled onto the street,
whose head landed on a pillow
of cobblestones, whose legs were torn
from their torsos when grenades exploded
during a rally or political debate.
A souvenir is what you take with you
after you've entered a space you might not
have been able to penetrate, had it not been
for the way foreign invasions opened up
faraway countries to the commerce
of the world. A monument is what marks
the scene where bodies falling
swung the pendulum of history,
or made a thousand compass needles
tremble violently awake.



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