Abraham Sutzkever

(1913 - 2010 / Smorgon, Russian Empire)

Dr. Atlas


To Sh. Kacherginski

— Commander,
The Lipichany forests are ablaze
And the Shchara
Will melt by night.
Give an order! As long as the ice holds,
We have a retreat from the battle.

But Doctor Atlas,
Used to mishap and sensation,
In a hut of branches, shimmering
With tar drops,
Answers coldly:
— Not now,
First, I'll finish the operation.

Huddled in a fur,
As if a calf had grown
Out of his bones —
Lies a peasant, moaning,
His pipe, stuffed with snow,
Stuck in his teeth —
As a suffering rod.
For nothing in the world would he give up
His pipe — not even to God.

Doctor Atlas will not dim
His pleasure.
Nearby, crouching on one knee,
A king lies on the other —
The peasant's rotting leg.

The half lens of the doctor's glasses
Glimmers like an icicle in sunset.
The leg,
Forged in a boot with a lucky horseshoe
Will not part from its boot.

— Commander,
Soon it will be over,
We are ten
And they …

He cuts them off:
— Mulya, wash the saw with snow
And have the boys saddle the horses,

The Lipichany Forests are ablaze,
Woe, woe.
The peasant grimly bites his pipe,
Woe, woe.
And Doctor Atlas takes a deep breath
And saws off
His leg.

Ten horses gallop.
Doctor Atlas — in the lead
With the peasant on his saddle —
Make way!

And the horseshoe suns ring
And sing
Over the shifting ice
Of the Shchara.

Submitted: Monday, July 21, 2014
Edited: Monday, July 21, 2014

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