Guards in the Pushkin Museum

by Sharon Chmielarz

No one will take begging lessons from the gypsies.
Especially not the old women who need them,
who, in a rickety hour, took their money 
from the mattress and handed it to a Russian banker, 
a mistake they’ll work the rest of their lives for, 

one to a room, back to the wall, avoiding your eyes,
stopping you from touching crumbling objects.
If they laid on you a most genteel panhandle—
Please, I have no money, no savings, no pension, no husband,
I lost him at Stalingrad—you’d see in their palms 

a reminder of Lenin, the sickle-shaped heart line. 
A deep cut around the thumb.  Not to be re-opened.  
They keep their hands tucked under sweatered elbows,
guarding their borders.  They go on, standing like 
willows while every ruble you have on you weighs a ton.

© 2003 by Sharon Chmielarz. All rights reserved.