Pavane for a Hero

Quiet, long after dark
The dogs have fallen asleep
So I’ll rest, reading a favorite story
The Homeric saga of Slavomir Rawicz
Escaping the tundra graves of Stalin’s Gulag
He led six others from the Arctic Circle camp
To the tropical highlands of North India
Later the home of another wanderer from the familiar fist of death
Lhamo Thundup, the Dalai Lama, and his Tibetan elite

The chapter scene was a heated log cabin, the Commandant’s
Who did not comprehend his new Telefunken radio set
So had called among the prisoners for a repairman
Who became Slavomir, admitting later he knew nothing
But remembered the set his parents used in Poland.
As he worked on the radio tracing the coils
They conversed in Russian, his mother’s native speech
The Commandant’s Russian speaking wife was there, the first woman
He had seen in years
It was she who gave him courage to escape Siberia
Fleeing South four thousand miles on foot

When my wife read his tale the first months of our meeting
She discerned my soul and the prisoner’s were Karmic kin
She visualized me leading the trek to freedom
And decided at some point to stay with me until the end
I knew the author of the story; moved by his anguish
I wrote, care of Constable the English publisher
In those days it was honor to write and to respond
The symbolic warmth of one hand extended to the other
Traversing time and distances between
And he replied in a British styled tissue envelope
I did not have the nerve to open at the Post Office
But delivered home to give Judith
She read it aloud and showed his sketches
Of the Yeti whom the escapees had seen
While crossing the Himalayan fastnesses

Rawicz thanked me for the international money order
I had sent to support the Polish orphanages he helped
With funds from the book, The Long Walk
That had not been out of print since1956
He confided the reason for their tenacious deed
“We had to get away,” was all he said
We corresponded several times in the course of years
He wrote he was too old to make me a walking stick
He had wrought as talismen of his awful trial
But then, about that time, Alexander and Emma
Ken’s son and daughter, eight and five
Threw together and bought me one in the town of Mendocino
Which I carried, when Alex returned as a grown man
To visit June 6 and 7, 2019, to Montgomery Woods
The redwood tree preserve, a cathedral of Nature
Thirty miles South of Willits in a verdant gorge
Between two Westward mountain ridges
Alex insisted to sleep in the sauna I built
In part to welcome him to his father’s first home
And his grandparents’ last abode
On that side of the lineage
He bedded on the anteroom’s raised platform
Of bare redwood boards with tiny windows North and South
Opposite the sauna door, with the roof sloped to our height
Not too tall, of the seven by seven foot chamber
That heated past ninety in a trice
When I tested the stove later in the season

Judith went to see it only once and said, “You’re a good builder.”
The stair steps down and up again exhausted her
She rested for hours afterwards, saying “You don’t know.”
That she would have no part in the winter ritual from my ancestral past
Alienated me from the prospect, so when the fire people
Tacitly watched while it caught from the inferno they had left to flame
Without a drop of water I accepted the judgment of fate
That a pyre had been prepared for Isaac
Placed on gathered sticks for atonements unknown past and future
Enlighting the Eastern hills with thoughts of the ages
Including the pages letters and drawings of Slavomir Rawicz
Who also like Isaac and Ishmael escaped alive to tell thee

When months later in unaccountable loneliness
I bought a few books as emblems of Memory
A copy advertised “in good condition” arrived from near Nottinghamshire
Slavomir’s family home with his autograph on the title page
And the salutation, “With best wishes.”
As though Death had no dominion upon winged Spirit’s incomprehensible flight

Jan. 4, 2020
WJ Ray

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