At the airport, Polish officials met Nixon politely, but without
the enthusiasm that might have offended Khrushchev.
All day long my father sipped the same cold cup of coffee,
soldered televisions, repaired radios and turntables,
a stack of Sinatra to test the tone arm. Thousands of Poles
cheered wildly, greeted the Vice-President without fear.
A blind woman lived in a shack attached to a mound of earth.
Patiently I accepted her bug-dented, half-green apples, stood
in her dark lean-to, my face read by her witch's fingers.
Look at the freedom Communist Poland had allowed its citizens.
Hairs rose on the hackles of my neck. Wind blew out the jagged
smiles of pumpkins. A cat screamed in black spits of rain.
Every year my father would give his employees a bottle
of wine wrapped in green foil. He had a soft heart and an ear
for a fellow's troubles, employed a member of the Meskwakie nation.
And though my mother made embarrassing conversation
about his "little Indians," he was an employee for some time
until he found greener pastures. Nixon had to take care
not to endanger the precarious semi-independence Poland's
rulers had won. Sundays, I lit the candles, balked
lifting the lid of the baptismal font, a green ball of snakes
writhing in the water.
The darkness of night brought a stranger to the door.
I too have worked for people I've despised. Khrushchev himself
received a cool reception from the Polish people. My father paid me
50 cents an hour for separating salvaged hardware.
I'd sit on a stool and chuck screws into cardboard bins, separating tiny
light bulbs, staples, wire and transistors. I'd solder robots together.
Nixon's limousine entered Warsaw amid the fervor of the Polish people's
Love of America. Thousands chanted, "Long live Nixon!"
The circus came with junior lion-tamer's whips and $3 plastic megaphones.
The grave grew thick. These were late fall/early winter months, overcast
like today, cold,
and only a small space heater warming my shins.
Wherever he went, thousands of Poles cried, "Bravo. Bravo."
Some wept. I came to the shop after band practice at a nearby junior high,
my coat never warm enough, always a gap at the collar
plugged by a scarf. My father wore a comrade's hat as he worked.
An overhead heater toxically chugged. The television screens brought us news
not only of civilization but also of the small Midwestern city
where we worked, studied and lived. Peace and friendship.
They would show the festive balloons and the scarves
of people more real than ourselves. Back in Washington, Nixon
and President Eisenhower conferred on the forthcoming
exchange of visits with Khrushchev. We would pray to the floating
moose and squirrel and thumb the dollars in our billfolds,
half grateful there was no place to go, and ponder, as did the whole world,
how this remarkable friendship could be spent.