Socialist realist housing blocks a dozen levels high,
stuccoed to collect the pollution, butt-ugly by design –
as if making the dwellings equally ugly
would make their dwellers more equal –
face off like the bars of ten thousand equals signs.
In the colour-hungry post-war dusk
every blind in the Bloc was drawn,
lest someone working with them
spy someone looking too happy or sad.
But a few summers after the Curtain fell
the occasional shirtless worker,
absorbed by the fifty missing years
on his timber-laminate TV,
would leave the blind up, needing the breeze
to cool eyeballs hot as Lenin’s
on the platform at Finland Station.
Later, even in winter, when the sky is wet newspaper
till dark at sixteen hundred, Warszawiaks would zigzag
up the concrete flights and leave the curtains open
after sloughing their coat cocoons.
Tonight a couple hang framed on night:
a knife poised in her long-fingers;
his face uplit by a recipe.
A student learns Chinese in his kitchen,
bent head penumbrated by his reading lamp.
A family absorbs the broadcast colours;
a bachelor sticks to black-and-white,
keeping the motley at bay
with docos on the Germans and Russians,
this time starring Uncle Sam.
Outside, the winter moths zigzag
from building-coloured camouflage,
never any surer which of those lights to circle.
First published in Quadrant, November 2021.