The Color of Nostalgia

by Susan Barba

A boy I once knew said my childhood
reminded him of the last idyll of the Russian empire,
the nineteenth-century days of Nicholas II,
before Rasputin, before the revolution.

And he was right, though I hadn’t known it then—
candlelight flickering in the arched dining room windows,
handmade lace dresses, bows in our hair,
quince and peaches from the orchard in the summer,

ironed sheets and ironed underwear.
How rich we were as children to live there
in the old world in New Jersey with the adults
who were both landowners and serfs,

Papa sweating in the garden heaped with watermelons,
Daddy clearing the woods of their underbrush,
Medzi smocking dresses, canning tomatoes,
and Mom, more beautiful than Empress Alexandra, ironing, ironing.

The land around us, oaks and maples, enlarged
the days reflected back to us, serene.
The day that Daddy left for the city, waiting by the garage
for a hug I answered with a wave

the idyll ended, taking him then Medzi, Papa too.
Giants of the earth all gone. In the poverty of the present,
the land is under snow, late afternoon light
turning the shadows blue. Something moves in my field

of vision. It is a fox picking his way like a dancer
from trunk to trunk, his coat the color of the dead unfallen
oak leaves, a rust one shade darker
than the grasses in the unmown fields.

Published on July 23, 2015