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Robert Chandler

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                                                                                                                          for D.A.P.

Robert Chandler
Theres a book to be written, I said, about how people responded to the news that Stalin had died - and Dima told me how
He himself had been six, and had burst into tears, and his mother, not daring to scold him or (God forbid!) give vent to her joy,
Had firmly told him to go and tidy the mess hed made in the kitchen, and Dima did as he was told, but then, soon afterwards,
Their gigantic cat contrived to inextricably wedge himself behind their ever-so-sturdy Soviet radiator,

And from this place of confinement the cat began to orchestrate the most satanic of screeches and yowls, which might -
So Dimas parents feared - have enraged their malevolent neighbours, or even inspired them,
Hungry for living space as neighours so often tended to be, to write a denunciation, accusing the family of who knows what
Blasphemous rituals on this most tragic of days, when tens of millions had been suddenly orphaned -

And so, since cat and radiator were equally unmovable, and it was impossible to acquire the necessary tools
Except by calling a plumber, they had called their plumber, a lover of vodka,who was finally carried
Into their flat late in the evening, far away in the world of spirit and unable to wield the tools of his trade,
Which, however, he had at least (thank God!) remembered to bring with him - and so drunken Ivan had lain in state on the floor

And issued instructions to Dimas father, who succeeded in moving the radiator and thus liberating
The exhausted beast, who - as I only now realize - must have been infected with at least a small dose of the hysteria
That had nearly the whole population of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in its tightening grip
And would soon cause hundreds of men, women and children to be trampled to death as they wedged themselves into Red Square on their way to pay their respects to the corpse of the Father of Peoples.

If your sister mentions your name, what I hear is always a story you told us that evening,
The story of how, after you had moved to Tashkent - Russian father, American mother, and you were born in China,
And in 1956 you had all gone back to the USSR, what with your father suffering tosk for the motherland
And your sister, Nadezhda, meaning 'Hope', dreaming she could contribute, with her knowledge of languages,

To international understanding - what I hear is how, in Tashkent, a city your grandfather, General Bitov,
Had once conquered for Tsar Nikolay, but where you yourselves lived in one room, since your holy fool of a father
Had entrusted to GosBank all the dollars he had saved during thirty years reluctantly trading timber,
And where you were trapped, since the USSR, then as ever, was easier to get into than out of,

And the only blessing was that the Russian Consul in Tsientsyn had had the grace to dissuade your father,
Playing on his worries over baby Misha's asthma, and the cold, and the journey, from returning before Stalin's death,
In which case you would all have been shot, or scattered around the Gulag - yes, what I hear is how, in Tashkent,
Your mother once boiled some valerian root to tide you over who knows what upset, and while it was cooling,

The liquid was drunk by the cat, who then slipped into the cupboard containing precious teacups from China,
Your family's last link with a world now lost for ever, and the cat, crazed by the valerian,
Was unable to find its way out of the cupboard and began to charge round in circles, pulverising the china
And so aggravating its panic, which made it charge faster, weaving together this story I always remember you by.

Copyright Robert Chandler
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