On cold days his body grew tense,
for his mind was back in the gulag.
He ached liked he'd been beaten
and had swung a hammer all day.
He remembered pissing on his hands
in order to feel them, to warm them,
feeling the stinging of urine
on the cuts and calluses,
sometimes feeling ice crystals form.
He recalled how all day he thought
of two stale, dry, and often green pieces of bread
and a ladle of balanda,
hopefully with an ounce of flesh stuck to the bones,
hHis mouth stinging from the salt
and parched with painful thirst.
He could still see his cell,
could smell the unemptied bucket,
see his breath in the gray darkness,
could feel the floor
where he laid his pounding head
and dreamed of blankets.
There was a crack in the windowless wall
through which he saw a solitary daffodil
that had bloomed too early
but managed to live through the frost and snow.
Inspired, he resolved to outlive the "Man of Steel,"
who sent him there.
His young body grew older and weaker,
but his spirit was stone.
The others told him that if you survived the first year,
you would live to be free:
he'd even eat the roaches that crawled across the floor,
for he knew he had to be strong,
and when he saw the outside world,
he learned that his dream had come true.
He laughed a laugh of victory
when he heard Stalin was dead.
Every year he saves the first daffodil,
and he smiles like he is seventeen again