Back then monks pulled the heavy ropes, toll
after toll, so the tongues formed tones, half-tones
from those tons of bronze, icons of sound,
the air thick with their clamorous rounds.
Insufferable God! What could Stalin do,
but silence those voices, blow after blow,
beat them like kulaks? Each knell a dead Jew,
White Russian, Pole -- he cut the ropes,
tore the belfries down, till town after town,
straight to the tundra, the ground shuddered
where they crashed, the air gagged
as they were melted, remade into tanks
and guns, those sweet onions peeled down
to nothing, so the sky no longer stung.
What was left went untolled: pen scratch
across parchment, pistol crack blunted
by a bunker door, as the air recoiled,
then thinned, slipped between hinges, spread
in circles, seeking an ear, someone to hear
the body's thud, as one after another
was dragged off, thrown into unmarked dirt,
down where silence blends with copper and tin,
where almost inaudible bones, heaps,
half-bones wait to be dug up again, wait
for earth to be unearthed, tongues loosened,
the ringing restored in town after town,
that cloud-battering bronze, air unbound,
as the bells toll, the bells tell, each knell.
By Betsy Sholl
Soviet law made the ringing of bells
illegal in 1930.
Betsy Sholl of Portland, Maine, served as Maine's poet
laureate from 2006-2011. Her most recent collection of
poetry is Rough Cradle .