The Generous Stranger

 (For Irpin, Ukraine)

Carried on the back of a generous stranger,
an old woman takes only what she can
hold in her bare hands as they cross
a shaking plank of wood placed over
the rubble of what was once
a concrete bridge. Cold river washes over
the feet of the generous stranger, but
he is steady. In the hard wind
which smells of burnt plastic and gunpowder,
the woman clutches the photo of her son who died.
On the bent fourth finger of her left hand,
her mother’s wedding ring rests
on top of her own as she hopes
to sell them both for food if they make it
to Poland. Behind her and the generous stranger,
her daughter sludges along, holding a
small stool for her mother to rest upon.
Wrapped in headscarf and coat but shivering
still, the daughter also carries their cat
in a soft canvas sack slung over her shoulder.
The animal is strangely quiet as if she fears
her howls might bring the cruel whistle of
more Russian missiles. Behind them all,
Irpin, Ukraine burns into ruin and wreckage.
The generous stranger, breathing heavily
from the weight of the old woman, steps
over a dropped shoe and keeps walking.

About the Poem

As I read the news accounts of volunteers carrying the infirm and elderly across wooden planks over the Irpin River while Russians still sporadically fired mortars, I had to marvel at such bravery—and such compassion. This is my tribute to those generous strangers who in the midst of such horror reach out to help others. While the detail about the stool is taken from a Washington Post news story, other details are imagined. The phrase “generous stranger” appears in the Post’s news story.

About the Author

Claire Matturro has been a journalist, a lawyer, and a legal writing teacher at Florida State University and University of Oregon. She is the author of seven novels, including a legal thriller series published by HarperCollins and co-authored a recent novel. She is an associate editor at Southern Literary Review.

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