Russian Crucifixes

by Emily Violet Swithins
The Writer's Block
First Place, November 2008
Judged by Hélène Cardona and John Fitzgerald

Mama kept the Russian crucifixes
in the same drawer as her panties.
It gave her pleasure to think of the rough wood
rubbing up against silk.

She’d bury swan eggs to make flowers
more beautiful, and broken glass
to protect the garden from thieving foxes.
Dirt was magic; only city people called it filth.

She beat me with a cedar switch;
afterwards my wounds smelled holy.
When the black dust storms descended,
we hid in the underground shelter,

while papa read from the Old Testament.
I blamed myself for sneaking a peek at the crucifixes
and trying on mama’s underwear, for kissing
the Jewish boy with my wicked tongue,

and hiding from papa at the bottom of the well.
The next morning we walked through the ruins,
and papa found the crucifixes, still neatly wrapped in silk.
He beat mama with his calloused fists.

Afterwards she filled the house with new
crucifixes, the cheap pine ones you buy in the dollar store.
The old ones she buried with the corpses of sunflowers.
I like to think of them that way, tangled in golden hair,
little priests in the arms of harlots.

Strong imagery and command of language, with a great rhythm and flow, make this piece stand out. It's full of contrast and surprises, and poetic lines, with a very strong end. --Hélène Cardona and John Fitzgerald