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SEVEN YEARS AFTER THE FALL

for Joe Knox 

 

 

JUST OUT OF THE TAXI FROM THE TERMINAL 

             

                                    The Neva’s a snowfield.

Headline: a bombing in Jerusalem 

            near the main bus station. The poet Brodsky,

not a Russian? “No, no,” says Oleg, “Israeli.”

                        My brain’s a kind of slush, so it takes me

            awhile to get that: a Jew.

                                    Eight time zones away,

my wife’s mother’s intestines uncoil

                        in the gloved hands of a young surgeon.

            The O.R.’s light is this

                                    pale northern glow.

 

 

SETTLING IN

 

            I’ve got a pocket full

of rubles, and the Metro stations

                        are named for poets. Still,

the ruble’s nearly worthless, and the city’s a

            nightmare version of Venice, canals

                                    all paved white, vistas,

            paralyzed, a boreal de Chirico.

The golden spike of the Admiralty middlefingers

                        a lid of clouds. It’s 23 Farengate,

Natalia says. What’s that? I’ll never

            write a single Russian stanza, but

                                    I sure wish I had Gogol’s overcoat.

                        And yours, too, buddy. I’d even wear Anna’s

full-length fur, the blond one she claims

                                                is Australian possum.


 

CITYSCAPE

 

            The place is holding its breath. White colonnades

at attention inspect the pants properly tucked into my boots.

                        Black smokestacks close in from the suburbs,

the Devil’s troops coming to mock, then annihilate

            this classicism. Rumor has it

                        the warehouses on the hooped horizon

are crammed with nukes shipped here for dismantling

                                    after the fall of the USSR.

            Duma means thought, somebody said. Or thinking.

Duma, Duma, Duma, I say, on my way down

                        Nevsky Prospekt.

 

 

THE LOCALS

 

Graffiti in Svetlana's piss-stinking stairwell:

                        “A lot of milk, / but no stomach. /

            “A brick, a head, / I want a cat.”

Lumps of ice everywhere like varnished rocks.

                                    I fall down. I fall down again.

When mild, bald men put on

                        their fur hats they become beasts,

            intimidating, some even demonic.

Hatless, they are affable, childlike, courteous.

            When you photograph people—when you ask

                        if you can—it’s no, no, no, no, but

not convincingly, and then you snap them and they say,

                                                Thank you.

 

 

DOSTOEVSKY’S LAST FLAT

 

            Dmitri phones: Please come

on Saturday. Metro stop Dostoevsky,

                        walk past Dostoevsky’s last flat

on your right, on your left

            through the archway, then left into

                                    the courtyard, the door

                        near the corner.

We are so sorry for the smell. Here,

            the hallway is part of the street,

                                                not like the U.S.

 

 

JOHN REED STREET

 

When I got to Finland Station,

                        I was 47, same age as Lenin.

            One thousand rubles were the same

as twenty cents. The Venice of the north

                        was frozen, even the Russians

said it was cold. Natalia stifled a laugh

            when I fell on the ice, but she fell, too,

                                    before we reached

                        John Reed Street.

 

 

NOT THERE YET

 

                        On a tiny, listing bus,

we tour St. Petersburg, but the windows

            frost and blurs pass behind a scrim. The guide

Englishes a mush of syllables. Then we eat beets,

                        Crimean peaches, some kernels called Greek nuts,

            foul dumplings, shredded carrots. Vodka, then cognac.

                                    I wake from dreamless sleep

in a freezing room. Out the window, far below: Desolation

                        of hardpacked snow. A bulky man

                                                leads a boy by the hand

            from nowhere to nowhere. Or maybe a girl.

                                    They have no faces. 

 

snow 1