Friday, May 18, 2001

Transfer Reading, SFSU

The Poetry Center is jammed. Obviously Transfer Magazine is the poetry journal to be in. Last Tuesday's 14 Hills reading, the room was half full. I had two poems accepted: RED POPPIES, and APPROACHING THE ARGUMENT. Both are Dutch poems. For Transfer, I submitted THE ENTROPHY OF EMPTY ROOMS, and THE QUARRY AT REGENWEG. Dan Langton said: "Poems about nostalgia and photographs is a 20th century phoenomenon. It fits the bill." Not sure if that was a compliment—or a backslap. Well, they were written in the 20th c. Get with the 21st century. What will be the new voice of the century, I wonder.

Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Lenin: an Intimate Tombside Chat, after the Fall (monologue)

(It’s 1992, the USSR has fallen, Lenin, still in his tomb in Red Square, is being interviewed by a cadre of western reporters during the interregnum right before Modern Russia is about to be resurrected... We can’t hear the questions the reporters are asking him, only his answers...)

LENIN SPEAKS: Tak! At first I was confused by all the hubub. . . Thank you, yes.
Imagine people lining up day in and day out, in winter, and in summer. . . year in, year out. . .
Finally I can have a good sleep after decades of listening to their frenzied droning.
Lenin, Lenin, Lenin. . . Like lost bees to the hive, how they came and came to their little Papa. . .

October. Das Kapital. The fine print. But of course... eh? We kept our silence.
Nyeh, nyeh, red was never my favorite word, prikrasnaya is: red and beautiful at the same time.
Eh? The thaw came early that year; but Russia taught Napoleon a thing or two about mud!
Two Romes have fallen but all roads lead to Moskva. Ah you should have seπen Moskva then!
Burning? Pasternak’s Matrushka Moskva. Da. He was forbidden, you know.
Official censorship is for the good of the Soviet people.

Yes, it is true Isadora danced for us. Oh how she danced. She loved us. We loved her.
How could you not love such a women as that? Julia? no. But Jack’s wife.... now, she...
You know, your American reporter Jack Reed, he is right here near Spassky Gate.
Here in this wall next to me. Yes. Yes. Is true. In Krasnaya Ploschad. Da!
You say they removed Stalin’s remains from the wall? Och! I am so sorry. I had no idea. . .
He was my poll bearer, you know.
Kiev’s ravine of shame—how many bones in a common grave of the Bibi Yar. . .?
Siberia I knew about, yes. But they were enemies of the state. I do not understand this W.W.II.
How many bodies? 27 million? You say Jews? Siganii?? Also enemies of the state? I had no idea. . .

When they changed my name it was hard to get the ink to flow, but once in the blood. . .
you know how it is. . . like Pasternak’s Zhivago, I always wanted to be a poet among the birches.
Yes, but of course I knew about Zhivago—the book was banned for the masses for they were children.
Pushkin, now he was my favorite. Did you know he was Black? We Russians are colorblind.
Not like you Americans who see color takeover in everything. I spit on your capitalismo!

Tak! They should have just left it Petrsburg. And now it is again Petr’s Grad. Ochin horashao.
Petr, now he modernized Russia. But we confiscated Catherine’s Hermitage for the people. Ludii, ludii
I am not a city, I am institution! You see how they still line up to pay homage to me? To me! ME.
For the record, I was never against the Window to the West. It was your imperialist propaganda.
Just like that story of Leningrad built on a foundation of human bones. . . is ridiculous.

Eh? How I long for a fat plate of varenyekii y smetana, and a glass of pepper vodka. Chut-chut.
Ah yes, I would love to see again those ripe fields of wheat, the blue-eyed cornflowers.
A young pioneer once gave me her most prized possession and I lost it. Indifference, I guess.
Nadezhda, my wife? Her name means hope. Books were our children. We read all that winter in Siberia.
But Socialism was my only bride. And The Great Patriotic War, my mistress. May Day?
Yes, I heard something about that hooligan landing his plane in Red Square. Emergency?
It nearly started W.W. III. Then your Pig Bay. Silos, missiles, silos. We build, you build. . .
red, white; white red and blue. Ya lu blue. Yellowbluebus. Da. That means “I love you” in Russian.

You like my tie? Is modern.. Latest fashion. New image and all. Imagine polka dots. Bah!
We bulldoze so-called modern art. Give me social realism any day. I miss my military uniform.
Did I tell you there is another me waiting in a secret room, in case something goes wrong
when I have my annual bath. He is such a good body double I cannot tell if I am him or he is me.
Yes the embalmers did a good job. But is a state secret. Now Eva Peron, she was a magnificent corpse.
Did you hear, after their coup, one of the generals guarding her body went mad with desire
and he ravaged her right there in the coffin. Imagine! That is why they had to send her to Rome
with false papers to be buried in the ground. No hanky-panky that way. Plot 84, I think.
Yes, I heard when they dug her up she was so perfect, as if asleep. All that golden hair.
They used wax, I think. Me? Formaldehyde and glycerin. and secret ingredients.
The embalmers, they did a good job on me, but they didn’t think of such things.
There is a mummy in China, a marquesa with such magnificent thighs. Oh!
Once I was known as Vlad the Impaler, but now? You have a new wonder drug, viagra?
Perhaps I should give it a try? On the other hand, I don’t want the guards getting any ideas.

Really? The moon? You are joking. A cosmonaut couldn’t possibly live three months in space!
Is impossible. What? They abandoned him? Yes, I know the feeling well. Star Wars?? Shto eta?
Nyeh puni mayu. Your Reagan was always asleep. You had your McCarthy, don’t forget Jesse Jackson.
Tak. . . Whatever happened to my comrades Karl and Feliks? They pulled the statues down?
Sometimes I can’t help but think of poor Trotsky in Mexico with that artist Frida—
His blood blossomed, a red star on limewashed walls as white as snow. Prikrasnaya.
You say the assassin used an axe; was he a good Ukrainian kossak? Da?
Did I tell you about my mausoleum; the red granite is from Cherkassy Oblast.

Nyeh, I don’t know Yeltsyn’s stance; his name? like a pine tree. Schto? Well, we’ll see.
The other vorona’s name meant strong as steel but he was a mean sparrow. Informer.
His wife Anna committed suicide you know. Terrible business. Tak! Keep silence.
Who puts the red rose on her tomb winter and summer? I ask you or where? Carnations are Soviet.
Whatever happened to my little blackbird, Gorbachev? and his Raisa? How she loved Paris!
The things I hear when my crypt is empty, when my comrades have gone home to their tea.
The guards, you know, they talk of politics, aout their bosses, wives, the vodka and bread lines;
always the shortages. Is it really true, the shortages? Not when I was alive.

God, I’d love to get my hands on a copy of Pravda. It means truth. Not like your yellow journalism.
You know, journalism was my first love. Oh! for the smell of ink, the clatter of presses,
it excited me, the truth in black and white for all the world to see. . .
I always thought we’d free the masses. Nyet! The revolution did not fail!
That’s where Stalin went wrong. Not everyone has the vision. . . or the means. Gulags.
“With an iron hand we shall lead humankind to happiness,” indeed!

Winter is best; for the ground is hard as steel. Political thaws are treacherous.
We have twenty words for snow and winter. Siberia, how I love the word, like wind in the pines.
Yosef should have known better than to rule forever like a Tsar.
Did we not get rid of Nikolai and his family for the good of the people.
But of course they loved Stalin, it was a cult. He was a vain man, a cruel father. I lost my brother there.
I would have given my eye teeth to see Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the table.
Yes, well, Breszhnev dozed off here and there too; ochin starray like your Hollywood Reagan.

But Anastasia did not escape. It was a bloody business, but we kept silence.
They say the bullets bounced off diamonds hidden in her corsets.
We buried them deep in the forest, quicklimed their bones. . . we kept silence.
But our sources know you have Romanovs living in your California, your Fort Ross,
they took treasures of the state which belong to the people of Russia. They should return the tea set too.
It is funny, in California, you have our Sevastopol, our Fort Ross, our Russian River—
Slavianka (Young maiden) we called it when we owned California. Love!
Our Rezanov and your Spanish Conchita Argüello, now that was a love story.
Too bad she became a nun after he was killed in Siberia. I never did like religion.

St. Basil’s? It is beautiful, is it not? Yes, it is true Ivan the Terrible had his eyes put out . . . Tak.
But this country’s is always full of silly rumors. Why do you think I ruled with such a firm hand?
It is the archi-texture: spare the birch rod, spoil the children.
I would love to see Petr’burg again in the Fall. I miss the parades, the banners lufting—
Oh! all that red against the snow! Like Mars Field. Is beautiful. Exciting.
No, I can’t see so well, but I can still hear. It’s so very quiet now in the Kreml.
These four walls, they have become my own personal Lyubianka. . .
Da. Nyeh, nyeh. That’s not true. I had considered stepping down; but they wouldn’t let me. . .
In the end I too, was a prisoner, nothing more than an opiate for the masses.

In Russia, we have a saying: Without a storm there can be no romance. I have had romance,
the greatest romance of all. Bolshoya spaceba for our little chat, I have so few visitors these days.
But the spruces outside my tomb, they are learning to speak, truly, the ground, it is thawing
and I hear their branches whispering such great secrets to the wind. Shhh! Keep silence!

NOTE BENE: Prikrasnaya/ beautiful, (krasnaya/ red); Bibi Yar/ the ravine where Stalin secretly slaughtered Jews; varenyekii y smetana/ dumplings & sour cream; Nyeh puni mayu/ I don’t understand; tak/ so, well; Siganii gypsies; Oblast/ region; vorona/ a crow (=black sheep); sparrows were Stalin’s special informers, Gorbachev/ blackbird, he was Lenin’s student; Pravda/ truth; ochin starray/ very old; Lyubianka/ KGB interrogation prison in Moscow; bolshoya spaceba/ thank you.

©2001 Maureen Hurley for Hystin Chinn; class