You had crouched to trace out a footprint in compact ice
with fingertips too frozen to feel,
glancing up at me and saying confidently,
'Two of them, probably infantry, traveling light, heading east
about an hour ahead of us, '
when the clearing broke into gunfire and I hit
the ground rolling, watching
a line of small geysers in the snow drive through you.
Then I was alone, laying on my stomach
and fumbling for a nonexistent magazine with the numb, leaden fingers
of one who has averted death
far too long. I watched through the cold
as the puffs of steam that comprised your irregular breaths
faded into imperceptibility, and saw in your breathing
the future of our advance into Russia:
we were in a land where harbingers of our defeat sprung up daily
from the ice fields to proclaim with their rifles
a truth we would rather die than accept––
a place where the only warmth
came from the whistle of a hot bullet.
And now as I turn over, face to an impotent sun for the last time,
my hand gathers a clod of snow,
and yet to me I could swear that I clench a sponge––
that these rivulets of sour wine
anoint the hands that will soon hold the world.