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Little Terror

To his mother he was Little Soso; to the people
in his impoverished village, Dhugashvili,


and even if some linguists claim that his patronymic
means son of garbage, even if one of his arms


was slightly longer than the other, for one year
when he worked at the observatory in Tbilisi,


he was handsome, and his mother adored him,
choler and all. She knew that when he lay at night


beneath the Georgian stars, his pockmarks
vanished, and his arms seemed the same length.


These nights at the observatory came many years
before he would forsake his own son rotting


in a German prison, before his wife would kill herself
from shame and neglect, long before


he allowed millions of Russians to starve. He was still
Soso, astonished by the dignity of stars, the names of which


owned nothing, claimed nothing, but pointed toward
a sweet desire: loincloth, solitary ones, little belly, wonderful.


(from My Favorite Tyrants [Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014]).