Thursday, August 17, 1989

ECLIPSE OVER KIEV, 8/17/89


ECLIPSE OVER KIEV, 8/17/89 *

                                     Where the darkness of the silent caves
                                      Is lovelier than the royal halls.

Your tongue will lead you to Kiev, someone says.
The golden domes and crosses of Sofiski Sobor
have conversed with the stars for a millennia.
Gutted Uspensky Sobor, a reminder of faith and betrayal.
The tower sank then sprang out of the earth in a single night.
In Pecherskaya Lavra, beneath cobbled streets,
mummified monks sleep in the Near and Far Caves.
Candles in the dark. We carry the moon underground.
After a week of rain, the cornice of the main post office
gave up the fight with gravity and slipped off--
the way my grandmother did, talking of hedgehogs
loose in the living room again. A premonition of darkness
I don't understand. Eleven people killed. Withered roses
and gladioli strung up against the pale fence.
At the ruins of the Golden Gate, a crowd gathers
to remember the place where they died.

We run alongside the Kiev-Moscow train saying goodbye.
I send messages home, I'm staying on. Kopeks in my pocket.
Sasha and Jessica are in love. She is leaving with the other students.
This train weaves a thread across the green steppes to San Francisco.
Sasha and I hold hands and walk back to the waiting bus.
When he cries, I tell him this is how friendship begins
between our two countries, when people fall in love.
He says, I will be a statue of Buddha with candles in each hand,
will you take me back to the States with you, then?
I tell him, I will roll you up in a fine persian carpet.
Grisha wants to know how to spell courage. A capitalist at heart,
he dreams of becoming president of Chrysler Corporation.
He asks, what is a four letter word for people without courage?
I don't know. I hear the rain, common thief of the night.
Leaving Kiev under a red moon, the bus driver admonishes
it is unlucky to whistle indoors, it brings bad luck.

My friend makes me tea from the wild grasses of the Caucuses.
It's a Russian tradition to talk about life and politics
in the kitchen late at night, he says, we are victims of historyó
first to suffer before nations give up their borders. He says
I am a man who is dreamless. But I saw it beginning in his eyes.
I tell him he is my lips and ears, he makes no comment.
None is necessary. I'm not too sure where home is.
I find a bear's tooth buried in the river bank
the color of the eclipse moon in the dark pocket of night,
and cannot shake the fallen cornices of Kiev from my mind,
dreaming of home, a nameless disaster, white walls with oak borders.
I adjust two snakes around his neck, then pin on the crushed red rose.
The endless Ukraine. I am between worlds listening to languages
I don't understand. Even the ground is quaking.

* Written exactly two months before the San Francisco earthquake.

1992 First Leaves
1990 Poetry USA, fall issue

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