Luxury Gulag

by | Sep 16, 2020 | Poetry

—Korolev, 1941-1944

Hitler was to be my salvation. When he
invaded, Stalin needed us, the experts,
rushed out of our long winter. The simulacrum
of release: Yes comrade, thank you comrade,
I said to the men who’d broken my jaw and
kicked me when I slept in the snow as they
packed me into a train and sent me south
of the archipelago. They offered me tea,
and I took it with six sugar cubes and
sliced lemon, said yes to every slab of
chocolate salami served from a porcelain
plate. When a man is crushing your testicle
with his boot, you’ll say anything to keep
it from popping. When they showed me
the salvaged Nazi rocket, I saw a smooth
sarcophagus robbed of its organ jars by
raiders. A rotten corncob I remembered
gnawing with my sticky gums. My task
was to bite it open and write a new Book
of the Dead, they said. The dead inside me
awoke an army of jangling bones, turned
tinny gears to pull brain from the nose
cone. The guards said they found the
rocket next to pyramids of bodies stacked
like hay for a furnace. I became another
matryoshka doll, one laughing inside another
screaming inside another. The dead
accompanied me like a sacral choir.
A clean part of the metal gleamed back my
crooked chin. When the guards looked away,
I leaned in close to this crypt, my rough scarab.

1 “Luxury Gulags” was the nickname for research prisons in the USSR.


About The Author


John-Michael Bloomquist was most recently living in Mexico as a Peace Corps volunteer. He lives in DC with his wife. They want to foster cats but Bastet hasn’t permitted it yet. His poetry has been published in Third Coast, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Superstition Review, and others.