Czar Nicholas the Bloody
Round and round on the floor we would go,
my father and I, roughhousing like peasants
as my mother watched and clicked her tongue
in her soft Danish way, shaking her head
as we swore and scuffled and laughed
through the happy pain of it all.
When he pinned me, finally, and he always did,
I would bury my face in the damp linen
of his chest, breathing in his cologne
that stank of cedar and crushed cherry blossoms.
I always envied his strength as he tore
an orange from its rind, or drew his bow
across the violin his hands swallowed,
or looked straight in the eyes of foreign men
in long black coats and told them No.
Summers, we would trade Petrograd
for Finland’s forest manors, and some mornings
my father would take the axe from our servant,
laying his own weight into the firewood
as I watched from the salon window.
When they made me Czar, I draped
my daughters in diamonds no assassin’s bullet
could break, ran my hands hard down
the banisters of our Winter Palace until they blistered.
"Czar Nicholas the Bloody" was originally published in American Literary Review, vol. 22.2.