Communist Cremation in Prague, 1986

Up from the subway exit escalate
Miléna Bilchek and her children. 
Streetcar Number Eight, spitting sparks, 
chortles to a stop. 
Black as Bohemian coal, 
a taxi sticks
half into the boulevard. 

                        A butcher truck shrills its horn. 

Separating asphalt from marble, 
the cemetery wall extends, grey and soot, 
to Wenceslas Square, 
except where broken
by a bough of poplar
or a person. 

                        A fiddler is leaning against the wall. 

At the cobbled courtyard, 
a flower girl droops with soberness, 
addresses a wreath
to somebody's uncle in a stiff suit. 
"Józef," it will speak. 

                        This she does for a living. 

Blue decorated military, 
tracing cobbles with their toes, 
mingle with white women
in black hose. 

                        They wait their turn. 

A Westerner
in Nike shoes
hides chocolate between his teeth. 

                        The taste is bitter sweet. 

From the crematorium
drains a flow of mourners. 

                        The hall is empty. 

                        It is finished. 

                        There is no smell. 

A chime sounds, 
then the word: "Bilchek." 

                        It is time. 

Men strong and alive
enter the hall, touching
women strong and alive. 

                        A comrade tells who Bilchek was. 

The Slavic brotherhood and sisters
take effort
to stand within their shoes
and feel the "Internationale." 

                        The air has heft; the organ heaves. 

A curtain draws
gently between the lives
of civil servants
and the waiting

                        Holocaust of Józef Bilchek ignites. 

The family stumbles into the open air
as a column of Bohemian soot rises. 
Patches of random sky begin
to pull the carbon apart: 
less black, more blue, 
cleared by the wind. 

                        The smoke is gone. 

To transport persons, 
a taxi sticks
half into the boulevard. 
Number Eight streetcar pauses
For one more passenger. 
Down to darkness
the subway entrance rolls. 

                        Miléna Bilchek wipes her cheek. 


                          - Richard Hacken