The Barn

23 June 1978 - Besh-Terek, Crimea 
Based on Ayşe Seytmuratova’s recollections

When he reemerged from the barn
he was carrying a rusty canister,
not luggage or a bag.
The passport you ask for
is my ancestor’s labor
that fertilized the orchards, he said.
Not in Russian, but in Tatar this time,
with a softness defying the gun
directed at him.
Then he lifted the canister toward the sky,
murmuring an ablution prayer.
The flames were all over his clothes
before even his cigarette touched the ground.
The police officer moved forward
as if he were going to fire his weapon.
Then he turned around:
started his bike,
and disappeared in a dust cloud.

I was eleven at that second,
turned sixty a second later.

And it never went away:
The smell of that gasoline
showering the erect body of my father,
and the odor of his burned flesh,
ninety percent, as the coroner
at the Lenin Hospital said.