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La Belle Dame Sans Merci

A POEM

By Thomas Fleming | July-August 1985

I spent the night — I could not get to sleep —

In counting out six million Yiddish sheep.

It took more time, on the slow Russian tongue,

To tell the tale of each Ukrainian,

And every Cossack, Kulak, Bait, and Lett —

To count ten million, how can I forget?

I wonder now and then did Chairman Mao

Ask how old so-and-so was doing now?

Forgetting, much like Claudius the Ro­man Emperor

That he’d despatched him in a fit of temper.

So many so-and-sos from which to choose

Your favorite: rich men, poor men, beggarmen, Jews,

Nameless and faceless as each drop of rain

That vanishes upon my window pane.

 

They were all very careful to explain

The thing that grew inside me felt no pain.

It was routine — they swore they spoke the truth —

No more than pulling out a wisdom tooth.

The room was bright — all porcelain and steel;

The nurses promised that I would not feel

Anything. It’s strange this modern math:

Six million over one. I take a bath

(Such firm, athletic flesh), I did not kill,

Come downstairs, watch TV, and take my pill.

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