The truth of intention

The truth of intention

I

I sit down to take tea in clear glass mugs
with a retired Polish doctor in his den

Born in Warsaw before the war
he is old enough to remember
the guns and bombs of thirty-nine
the guns and bombs of forty-three
and the Iron shutters of the Red Army

Shaking his head at what is on the tv
I notice his blue eyes dissolving
like bolts of Arctic ice
buoyant over a profound deep:

‘I fled communism because I valued
knowledge from experience
but what I learned while in Paris was
that the pennant of change is royal.

‘The tyrant will shoot the general
just as sure as he disdains the writer.
But it is one thing to sit across from a man
who doesn’t want to know the facts
and quite another to sit beside a man who
doesn’t know what facts are.’

He finishes his tea
as his wife wheels in the samovar.
Noticing my admiration for its burnished brass
he remarks:

‘A gift from a Russian diplomat friend.
The irony, sometimes, is too much.’

II

‘I want to tell you of a dream I’ve had.
You might think it strange,
but for years I contemplated psychiatry
choosing instead to cut the brain
rather than ponder at it.’

He chuckles.

‘I am in a warehouse
brought from my cell.
One of my fellow prisoners says
to the guards how they must hit him
hard on the shoulder.

‘“Beat me! Beat my arm!”
He screams at them.
“You have to see what I can do!
What it is that I know!”

‘For many minutes they pound on him
turning his deltoids black and blue
and he laughs the entire time
choking on his message:
“Just wait! Just wait! Wait till you see!”

‘And then it comes:
he defecates.
Copious amounts of shit fill his pants;
there is so much his trousers start to sag
and I, standing on the far side of the room,
nearly double over with nausea.

‘Every guard turns away,
several of them retching.
His laughter never ceases;
he says: “See! What did I tell you!”

‘He is rapturous.

‘“My God! My God! Oh, how good it feels!”’

‘The guards would approach him
to beat him for his foolishness
but they cannot reach him.’

III

‘A free man now
I am in an underground dungeon
being shown what the regime has done
with its dissenters.

‘There are twenty cells
filled with leading writers, artists
and intellectuals.
They gaze out at me
elbows resting on iron beams
their arms woven between the vertical bars.

‘In the middle of the beams are red circles.
They radiate a certain energy, shall we say
and I feel it.

‘Two hooded figures enter the room.
One is a man and the other,
I think,
a woman.
Their robes are pewter grey,
their skin ashen,
hair long and salt and pepper colored.

‘As they approach I feel them force
something onto the dissenters.

‘They do not move their arms.

‘There is silence; no one is speaking
but their force is something that I feel.

‘It is harmful.

‘Then the red circles start to become blue;
the blue moves across the red in phases
like a lunar eclipse.

‘As soon as the blue is in half moon
I begin to force it back;
concentrating all of my energy against it,
feeling the strain of my effort.

‘The blue is checked
and we become locked in struggle.

‘It is at this point that I see my wife
enter the room.
She is approached by a man,
an American Senator who is trying to coax her
into accepting what the hooded figures
offer. He is not to be trusted, I know.

‘She turns and looks at me
in confusion,
her body language suggesting that she needs
answers: “You have been here longer,
what do you think is best?”

‘I turn and tell her: Resist!
This is difficult as I cannot break concentration
from my fight to keep the blue at bay.
The Senator says that it is better to die,
to follow their way forward.

‘No, I tell her. No.
You cannot believe what he says.
It is never better to die.
I know.
The hooded figures are sending her and me
nonverbal messages;
I hear them in my mind but believe nothing.

IV

Before he asks me what I think of his dream
we hear the president on the tv.

‘He is in my city
and look at how he thinks my people
value what he has to say!
This man. This man who colludes with one
of the two greatest enemies we, Poles, ever had!

‘What to say! What to say!’

I ask,
do you believe the people in the audience
are there because they want to be?
Or is everything staged?

‘What to believe?’
He takes a sip of tea.
‘After more than eighty years
if you ask me what is the most precious
thing a person can possess
I would say that it is this: a true memory.

‘I hated the Russians
but Tolstoy, him I read.
And he said that there is no reliable account
of what has happened.
But still, there is truth!
The truth of intention!’

Jeremy Nathan Marks

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