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They were almost unaware of the poetry they moved in.
It was like birdsong in a garden:
- ash tree clarity, sycamore vision -
and St Petersburg itself an elegant mirage,
a festival of peace time soldiers,
ball dresses and marble palaces.
Among so many Russians, one was an upstart,
inwardly awkward, writing as he walked,
a white-knobbed stick his Jewish crosier, but
sometimes; unfortunate people are very happy.
He dreamed of the South with a copper moon,
blue-eyed dragonflies, and an Easter foolery
of sugared almonds and fallen tamarisk leaves
while in Kiev a hundred old men
in striped talisim sat at benches in grief.
All that is left now of that Silver Age
is space and stars and a few singers
who have learnt the sad language of goodbyes.
Skewered lamb with almonds, champagne and Lermontov.
Poets loved Tbilisi in Soviet days. They flew south
from Moscow snows on rattling Aeroflot
over the peaks and chasms of the Caucasus,
to find sunshine, flowering chestnuts and acacia,
women with coppery hair and bare throats,
and men who looked like Italians, in loose shirts,
instead of ear-muffed Muscovites in winter coats.
In 1978, five British writers, released
from bugged hotels and grumpy minders
relished the street mix of faces and races.
We saw wooden houses, niched into a cliff,
with people eating breakfast on verandas
over a gorge with the yellow Kura below us -
a false step on a drunken afternoon would
test the healing waters of the Caucasus.
I remember the feasting, the Tamada, the toasts,
the license given to Georgians as useful rogues
even in Moscow, where their market offered
slabs of beef, fresh fruit and green vegetables
illicitly driven north in kholkhoz lorries.
Last night, I watched on televison as Russian tanks
were bullying old women in Georgian villages.
Times change, but it’s rash to gamble on assistance.
Tsvetaeva gave Moscow to Mandelstam.
She led him as a stranger
to the Chapel of Inadvertent Joy,
over the Seven Hills, into churches,
through cemeteries - until he fled from her
as if she were a mist-wreathed nun,
back to his Parisian Petrograd, the city Peter
invented and Pushkin longed for -
to Nevsky Prospect, streetlights and an elegant
jagged images push up through his lines.
‘How else could he write,
in such an artificial city?’ growled Yunna Moritz.
‘Think of Gogol. Or Dostoevsky!’
|© Copyright Elaine Feinstein|