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Lenin's Bath

The future of the body--that's a purely political question.
--Dr. Sergei S. Debov


The assistants lift him gently,
gently. For a moment, the one lifting under his arms
is in the attitude of an artistic
sorrow-- It is
the Deposition, the taking down of the god.
But then one of them wraps his limp body around him
like a coat,
marches around to the laughter, saying,
"Comrades, comrades--" He is dead, he is so dead
he is nothing, he is a cloth to tend.
When Debov walks in, disheveled, yawning, the assistants
are all business, filling the vat
with the secret fluid
that makes him supple, that makes him clean.
They are so tender,
lowering him into the tub. Their gloved hands come away
fleshy pink.

When they've gone, Debov sits watching. He imagines
the sheath of bacteria he knows is there, incessant, biological,
seeking a way in. They push and gather
at every pore, but the flesh is sealed--
His doing.
Soaking in his vat of embalming fluid, Lenin looks restful,
meditative, a high official in his bath
in his dacha, far away
from the controlled air of the mausoleum,
the schoolchildren filing past him
unblinking, the veterans who stand, expressionless.
Debov watches
as the germs crawl up and down the length
of the body, scouring, sniffing
for that open hole-- The cold windows in the laboratory
condense with his breath, and the flies lie hungry
in the snow.

--Dana Levin


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