Mobirise Site Maker

Two Contemporary Poets

Spring, 2004

Ioanna Warwick

Stalin's Mustache

In Warsaw near the Tomb
of the Unknown Soldier,
in a treeless square,
there used to scowl a bronze
statue of Felix Dzierzhinski,
founder of the Cheka,
the Bolshevik Secret Police.
His nickname was
"Bloody Felix."

Before the solemn unveiling,
someone had managed to paint
the statue's hands blood-red.
When the string was pulled,
the dignitaries gasped:
the blood of his victims seemed to drip
from Bloody Felix's hands.

The speaker on the podium
began to stutter.
The military band
struck up, then stopped;
feebly began again.
To patriotic chords,
the string was pulled back.

Fifty years later, ten thousand
people jammed into the square
to watch the demolition
of the statue of a mass murderer.


My cousin Ewa told the tale
of yet another fallen icon:
a giant statue of Stalin,
the tallest in the world.

Taller than the Statue of Liberty,
the dictator darkened the sky
at the joining of two great rivers:
the Volga and the Don of Cossack fame -
his "sneer of cold command"
staring down the starving Ukraine.
The empty
multi-story pedestal still stands.

Stalin was toppled into the water -
shallow enough, they say,
that from the cruise boats one can see
his colossal face.
Ewa was on one of those boats.
At the sight of the pedestal,
all rushed to the deck.
Ewa said, "From where I stood,
I only caught a glimpse
of Stalin's mustache."

She giggled. She must have told
this story countless times.
We sat around the table smiling,
sipping home-made hawthorn wine.


So many heavy statues.

Huge posters like holy icons
carried in May Day parades.
In store windows instead of goods,
portraits of Marx and Engels
draped in red flags.

Stalin's mustache.

It stained the walls,
it used to grow in the streets.