When we were the poorest,
mom paid my weekly allowance
in birds. That one is yours, she whispered
so as not to disturb it.
If you clean the oven
I’ll give you that red one.
In a few months
I owned all the birds on the street,
blue jays, finches, a lame owl
cowled in the clock tower.
We had to walk farther each Saturday
to find a new fountain or thicket
so mother could pay me what she owed.
We stood on a bridge.
Our soldiers were marching away,
and trying to sound brave.
Their numbers were staggering.
I invented a mathematics
to understand them.
I subtracted them from summer
and it was winter. Most of our houses
were gone, and the birds too.
The university had been bombed
with my father inside, attending a reading
by some Polish poets.
The poems were so sturdy, he said,
they held up the dome of the ceiling.