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Centralized Heating
by Katherine E. Young

At dawn the heat resumes its liquid journey
through iron casings bent like whalebone stays

to fit a waist of air. Over breakfast,
I read the death notices: Died from burns

incurred when ice gave way above a ruptured
And still they lay uninsulated

pipe, because that's what they've always done.
Whole neighborhoods, entire Russian cities

conjoin along these grids of heating lines,
hot water mains: each year a few unlucky

souls tumble into their ancient workings, martyrs
to a theory that was never quite perfected.

Outside the clouds dribble pale gray snow;
I blow on my cold fingers, pressing them

to the radiator's ribs, just barely warm.
Across the way, a woman's used the tepid

water for her wash: wet bras and girdles,
lingerie, stretch rigid and plain along

her balcony. I hear the groan of water
gurgling through the pipes, the muffled squeal

of Moscow's thirteen million taps turning
in unison. What do we truly share,

this Russian washerwoman and I? Only
these iron heating veins, these leafless birches

shivering in the ice-covered courtyard.
A certain elasticity of mind:

the way we softly mouth the words God rest
his soul
before we turn our thoughts away.

First published in The Chattahoochee Review.

From her collection Day of the Border Guards.

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