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3rd Place Poetry Winner: Toddler on Fire - MARK HAMMERSCHICK

I will not kiss your commie flag

a sickly sickle and rusted hammer stuck in the mud

hollow scythe dulled with Ukie blood

when the steppes were silent dark and deep

stopping at the Gulag on a snowy evening

watching the pits fill with bodies

as they choke and freeze in their own vomit

the gnarled hinds of Siberians frozen to their beds

they do not go gentle in the good night

no eulogies for these union dead

or the dead at Katyn Forest, the Kazakh famine, Stalin’s purge

Babi Yar, Stalingrad and now Kyiv, Odesa, Mariupol and Kharkiv,

it’s absolute horror, infinite pain

sadomasochistic machete emaciated

like the long dark trail of the German 6th army

as it headed east into oblivion.

We are trapped in this hopeless reality

living Napoleon’s rear guard as it headed west out of the steppes

the lines on the map moved from side to side

like Mother Russia I have become comfortably numb

no star spangled banner only yellow and blue

and red, rivers of red pulsing mulching merging.

Arbeit macht frei mein Bolsheviks

as the Mariupol residents know

but only in their dreams as

Morpheus sweeps them into the light beyond light

deep into the Matrix

into the known unknown center of relativity

beyond the event horizon

their mass accelerating into reductio ad absurdum

where does it end

how does it end

does it end at all?

All we are is shell shocked

stumbling amid the rubble and limbs

numb, frozen, hopeless, starving

knowing how getting nailed to a cross must feel

because in that feeling we fall,

hands clutching blood

hugging what’s left of a toddler

as the next blast pummels the building

watching it toddle down flaming stairs screaming…


Mark HammerSchick writes poetry and fiction. He holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a BS and MBA.

He is a lifelong resident of the Chicago area and currently lives in a northern suburb near the shore of Lake Michigan.

His poem "The Tides They are Rising on Up" recently won third prize in the Poetry Society of Virginia Anne Spencer Memorial Prize Category "Overcoming Adversity".

His current work will be appearing in: Calliope, Fauxmoir Literary Magazine, Sincerely Magazine, Mignolo Arts, Blue Lake Review, Naugatuck River Review, New Plains Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, Griffel Magazine, Voices Magazine, Wood Cat Review and Change Seven Magazine.


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