Series 3 No. 3 - 2005
For Anna Akhmatova
Who had been in love with her that summer ? Did it matter ?
The incidental willow is what she would remember,
bare like a silver brooch on a sky of foxfur
during the winters of famine and deportations.
She wished she had something more cheerful to show them:
a list of the flowering shrubs in a city park,
lovers and toddlers asprawl behind rosebushes;
workers with mallets indulging in horseplay
while knocking partitions of sheetrock to splinters:
energy’s avatars, feminine, masculine.
Forehead against the cold pane, she would always be
ten-and-a-half years older than the century.
She remembered Mother reading them Nekrasov
as they ate sardines with white cheese and tomatoes
while sun set late on the same seacoast where Tomis
had sheltered and repelled an exiled poet.
She would eat the same briny cheese in the heat of Tashkent
waiting for news from re-named Leningrad.
It had pleasured her, a language which incised
choreographed chance encounters, almost-uttered
words, eye-contact, electricity
of an evaded touch: she wrote about
brief summers, solitude’s inebriation
in the dusk that fell at almost midnight.
(Louise Labé in a less clement climate,
with electricity and indoor plumbing.)
She and her friends and lovers chiselled lyrics
until the decade (what did they think of revolution?)
caught up with them, the elegant companions,
and set them to a different exercise.
(Which travelling companions would you pick?
Who would have chosen to endure Céline?
Pasternak wrote a paean to Stalin;
Donne, for Pascal, would be a heretic.)
Something held her back from choosing exile
when the exacting enterprise went rotten.
Russia was not her motherland: it was St Petersburg,
the birch-lined corridors of Tsarskoye Selo -
but she was not retained by bark-scales spreading
up her limbs, with a god’s breath in her ears: there
were her threatened friends, her son in prison
(who would not understand her coded letters
or what had held her back from choosing exile
after she did the paperwork to place him
in the Russian Gymnasium in Paris
the year his father met a firing squad;
and Marina - who would not live long -
wrote, she would meet them at the train station).
Tinned fish, gas rings, staggering armchairs, stained toilets
- mass graves of compromising manuscripts.
Was her exigent Muse the despised dictator
who censored, exiled, starved, imprisoned, murdered,
hurting the prodigy of birch and willow
into her late genius of débridement?
‘Submissive to you ? You must be out of your mind…’
How could she imagine, the ‘gay little sinner', up
daybreak to dawn, the exactions of history ?
City rerouted for transit to labour camps,
first husband shot in prison, their son in prison,
then in a labour camp, on the front, then still in prison.
She, over fifty, grown aquiline, vigilant,
larger than life, ‘casta diva’, her arias
camouflaged witness, evoking the dailiness
veiled in translation or foreign geographies.
Can you, yourself, in your eyrie, imagine it
while an empire's gearshifts creak behind you?
She made her despair the Virgin's or Cleopatra's
- under the circumstances, not outrageous.
She would write in praise of peace brought by the tyrant
if her lines might evoke an adjective passed down
from underling to underling until
some hungry guard unlocked a door… It didn’t
happen. Her son called her superficial.
Larger than life, with all her flaws apparent
she rolled on the floor and howled in indignation,
more like the peasant she had come to resemble
than Anna Comnena or Cleopatra
or the ikon of words who was asked by other women
at the prison wall ‘Can you describe this?’
Once, in a youthful funk, she had made a poem of
her son (then just four) at her churchyard graveside
unable to resurrect his flighty mother
except to the balance sheet of her defections.
She was alone, and he was alive, in prison.
The impatient butterfly of Tsarskoye Selo
a solid matron, stood below the frozen
walls, with her permitted package, like the others -
whether they had been doting or neglectful mothers.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The