Saturday, February 08, 2014

Games - (for Masha)

Putin sports a Mona Lisa KGB smile.
The lyrics of the hymn to the triumph of
Communism's unbreakable Union
Have now been switched to,
"Russia, our beloved country,
We are so gloriously proud of you."

Not even in name does my Moscow exist--
Half the streets have been reassigned, the
Five-story Khrushevka where they leered,
"Amerika, howzya doin'?'" while I lugged pails of
Rubbish, has been demolished in favor of
A newer model. Good riddance.

Bolshaya Akademicheskaya's mildewed
Apple orchards have long forgotten me.

But Tal'kov, reeking of Limonnaya, still marches
Into my sleep, singing, "Laughing over your memory..."
And Listyev, undaunted by bullets, appears,
Prepared to banter. We discuss the merits
Of his suspenders by a Celtic cross
In Kolomenskoe. And wait for sunrise.

A salesman-voice on television describes
All Russians as dreamers. An explosive
Guffaw interrupts the programming.
The source is my daughter. Masha.
"It's an inside joke," she explains, tittering.
"You see, I'm the only Russian in the room."

Borsch is okay, but Cyrillic and the
Rustling of the Slavic shuchu, shuchu *
Give this refusenik the hives.

Byzantine Paraskeva-eyes flashing, she
Declaims decisively in German,
"Ein Blatt. Es lag im Gras."
An undecipherable saboteur,
She drops constant stealth-bombs,
Swearing, sneakily, in Japanese.

* (I'm joking.)

For comparison purposes--different lyrics, same score:

The Soviet National Anthem.

The Russian National Anthem.

For those who are boycotting the Olympics, here is the Russian Police Choir's version of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" in Sochi.

If this post sounds a bit hard-boiled--apologies--just a bit of poking fun at one's own self & life.

Dukhi - (Духи́)

Notes on making love to a poem:

Peek at the first line, and close your eyes.
A mountain is almost never in a hurry.

Then, let it blush under your gaze
Like a rose in a steam bath,
Till the dream emerges
From its interior.

If Venus climbs out of a shell,
Why not ease her into a towel
With a warm apricot-smile.

Sniff for notes of lavender,
Sandalwood or amber.

Listen to its curious music.
Ponder: is it an antiphon, or an
Arabesque--a caprice, a requiem,
Or, best of all, a nocturne?

Does it convey you to wine-
Dark seas, dim catacombs,
Drab coffins, petal-strewn
Orchards, or to a sooty alley
Under a clock tower,
Chiming half past doom?

Hold it in an open palm.
Wait until it ripens and
Confesses its secrets.
A tear may blister the page.

But if a phantom in verse
Begins winking at you
Elusively, ironically,
While a subtle point
Sharpens in your breast--
Drop the book, now!
Run, while you still can.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

fire mother

When she stretches out her scaly wings to yawn, they could cover the side of a barn. She increases, while I shrink. She is proudly crimson, a color I have always feared.

Every morning, she reaches into her spleen-pocket and places a tiny, steaming coal on my tongue. It reeks of frankincense. Then she teaches me to speak aloud. I am shy, but she is no shrinking violet. No, Ma'am.

We were not always such great friends. When we reunited, she burned me with a howling rage for epochs, until I became nearly transparent. I dreamed I had no flesh on my right wrist, only white bones, and on my left--a prosthetic metal arm with a flesh hand dangling. See, the skin has grown back now. Where the shackles had been. In order to avoid a charred odor in the kitchen, she does refer the cookie baking to me.

I ask her what she did all that time, while I was gone.

"I was the one who was being burned, before," she says. "You were the one who was not there for me, when I needed you. You are not going to be allowed to let them hurt me again. Or to be with someone who does not know you. That is how I became a dragon."

And then, suddenly, she is aloft, heading for the horizon, tugging at me strangely, like a kite on an invisible string.

What is this peculiar sensation, I wonder. A warmth. A different sort of flame. My dragon darts back to my shoulder and whispers hoarsely, "That. Is love."

water mothers

It is always night again when your boat hits the banks of the Lethe. Or it could be the Youza, the Neva, the Nile, the Amazon, or the Yukon. No matter.  It was safe on the river. There were no names, only cloaks of anonymity, and the rocking of the boat. Flashing from the forehead of the dark mother, a black light. Who am I, you ask her. Who. You allow yourself to be wrapped in an impossible blue bliss. There is a scent, as if you had been handed a garland of fresh spearmint. You are fresh, says a voice. A seam between dream and waking has been opened.

The house shakes from the repeated explosions of ordinance, miles away. You wonder, shuddering, how it impacts the small hairs in the ears of those who detonate it. Again. Again. Again. Who has paid the price for this, and who will pay it again, again, again? A few stray snowflakes sift onto the ice.

In another country, the blue vision of a poet has been torn away, his voice silenced. You hear this, are stunned into self-reproach.

What can I do, you ask, in his honor? How should I remember the selves we have all gambled, and lost?

The river answers, Go, now. Be a mother.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014


Nightingale, sing: interpret, speak, chant, kneel,
I dub thee Sir Rosencrantz Ramallah,
A profile fraught with the essence of myrrh,
No Fayoum encaustic, this burnished cheek's
Been drying mad Ophelia's kerchief,
And leaving great Catherine in the lurch,
Her heaving thighs in furs, on ice, alack--
Sanguine vigilante of truth, a Con-
Science raveled in revolution's sidekicks,
A tzaddik soul misplaced in drifting sands,
The gates of Isfahan await thy verse,
Borne on pixels en route to Samarkand,
Where is the golden-tongue, O where thy mirth?
For a rose seeking Attar to refine?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Voices of the forest primeval, disguised as young pioneers - Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Białowieża Forest)

Soloist: Vitaly Nikolaev. Composer: Aleksandra Pakhmutova. Choir: Big Children's Choir, USSR, 1977. Apologies for the audio quality. This, honestly, is a fall-into-one's-brain-and-stew-there, nostalgic post.

Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Białowieża Forest) is one of the few remaining sections of ancient woodland in Eastern Europe. Centuries-old oaks live there--with names like Emperor of the North and Emperor of the South.

Might there be a song to which the spirit flees like the first white crane returning in spring, and remains there, suspended, untouched by violence or bitterness?

Oops-- realized I left out a verse, so I've inserted it. Could it be that for some of us, healing is a unique dance caught up in the wounding and the mystery of time, that only trees truly comprehend? All the best to Vitaly in his current existence.

Belovezhskaya Pushcha

A timeless melody, a distant promise,
Light of a crystal dawn,
Light above the world arising,
I understand your age-old sorrow,
Belovezhskaya Forest, Belovezhskaya Forest.

Here is our long-forgotten parental home,
And hearing the voice of ancestors calling,
A gray forest bird from distant centuries,
I fly to you, I return, Belovezhskaya Forest.

A gray forest bird from distant centuries,
I fly to you, I return, Belovezhskaya Forest.

The perennial oaks gather greatness,
Lily-of-the-valley in shadow, guardian of treasure
The children do not want your bison extinct,
Belovezhskaya Forest, Belovezhskaya Forest.

The children do not want your bison extinct,
Belovezhskaya Forest, Belovezhskaya Forest.

On an umarked path I make my way to the creek,
Where grass is higher, where thickets thicker;
Like the deer, on my knees I drink your holy
Spring of truth, Belovezhskaya Forest.

Having warmed my heart at the tall birches,
I carry away with me a living solace,
Your treasured refrain, a miraculous melody,
Belovezhskaya Forest, Belovezhskaya Forest.

Your treasured refrain, a miraculous melody,
Belovezhskaya Forest, Belovezhskaya Forest.

--Nikolai Dobronravov

Беловежская Пуща

Заповедный напев, заповедная даль,
Свет хрустальной зари,
Свет над миром встающий,
Мне понятна твоя вековая печаль,
Беловежская пуща, Беловежская пуща.

Здесь забытый давно наш родительский кров
И, услышав порой голос предков зовущий,
Серой птицей лесной из далёких веков
Я к тебе прилетаю, Беловежская пуща.

Серой птицей лесной из далёких веков
Я к тебе прилетаю, Беловежская пуща.

Многолетних дубов величавая стать.
Отрок-ландыш в тени, чей-то клад стерегущий…
Дети зубров твоих не хотят вымирать,
Беловежская пуща, Беловежская пуща.

Дети зубров твоих не хотят вымирать,
Беловежская пуща, Беловежская пуща.

Неприметной тропой пробираюсь к ручью,
Где трава высока, там, где заросли гуще,
Как олени, с колен пью святую твою
Родниковую правду, Беловежская пуща.

У высоких берёз своё сердце согрев,
Унесу я с собой в утешенье живущим
Твой заветный напев, чудотворный напев,
Беловежская пуща, Беловежская пуща.

Твой заветный напев, чудотворный напев,
Беловежская пуща, Беловежская пуща.

Another favorite Big Choir song,  "Kuznechik" -- "The Grasshopper."

HOA VI - The Pipeline

The sensations of a particularly hot Alaskan day were deposited in my memory-banks--a day we all climbed Willow Mountain, near one of the large pipeline construction sites. Our way was made easier by a road cut through the brush on the side of the hill--not a proper mountain, actually, when compared with the Wrangell or St. Elias ranges. We scurried up the road and savored the view of Willow Lake in the distance, nibbling on raspberries. Who remembers those reusable, squeezable camping tubes? And the satisfaction of chomping down on a slice of apple with a dollop of peanut butter, with an appetite made keener by the breeze of altitude?

Willow Mountain was one of the many locations where the Pipeline was built above ground, to save it from being buckled  by permafrost. The 48 inch diameter pipes were insulated and hitched onto elevated, finned supports with connecting crossbeams that allowed for movement, and thermal devices to prevent the melting of the permafrost. At Willow Mountain, the Pipeline is close enough to reach out and touch, if one ignores the No Trespassing signs. In August, 1975, over 21,000 people were busy employed digging holes and raising the pipes onto these beams. They arrived in a hurry, and after they made their piles, they left behind scrap-yards full of steel desks, Blazo boxes and tins, and 50-gallon drums, which were quickly picked over by the locals. For the resourceful, a Blazo box can serve quite satisfactorily as a sock drawer, or a kitchen shelf.

It would be difficult to comprehend the magnitude of what the Pipeline has meant for the state of Alaska, unless one had spent time there before the influx of stoplights, fast food chains,box stores, fancy schools, or concert halls. In its hey-day at peak flow, all of its Rolls Royce gas turbines were roaring at full-bore, blasting like the jet engines they were at every pump-station along its route. But every voice and mechanical contraption associated with mankind must eventually fall silent.

Trans Alaska Pipeline, Unburied Section, Richardson Highway

Monday, February 03, 2014

House of Alaska V

Dwelling in the proximity of great mountains could be likened to living near a grand, transparent theater. On those days when the cloud-curtains lift, an ever-changing spectacle of ice-clad towers greets the eye. Throughout the day, they reflect and refract light into tableaux of patterns and colors. One learns to lean on these vistas during the short winter days and endless summer nights. No matter how far the distance from them is later measured in miles, a part of one's soul will always cling in remembrance to the shadows of such peaks.

The door of our newly-constructed cabin, with its scrap-glass patchwork of windows acting as eyes, opened onto a panoramic perspective of some of the highest snow-clad volcanoes in North America.

Drum, Sanford, Wrangell, Blackburn. These are the names of mammoth dragons, lords of the clouds, dreaming with their heads wreathed in mists. Wrangell lets out puffs of steam now and then, a reminder of vitality. Sanford's vertical andesite walls defy gravity and cast spite at one's gaze.

A murky salmon factory, the Copper River winds its way 300 miles from a wound in Wrangell's ribs down to an enormous silty delta on the Gulf of Alaska. Follow the Edgerton far enough, there are the bright seafoam-green boulders washed by Liberty Falls, announcing the presence of rich mineral ores. Further on, the tiny semi-ghost-town of Chitina is dwarfed by the presence of the river.

An inviting path behind the cabin led through the aspens and dark spruce to the House of Alaska--just long enough to bring one's self up to speed while running, but not so long as to lose one's breath.

Summer-time meant a frenzy of activity, of new arrivals, and the building of an octagonal sauna and a shed. Daily activities included hauling water from the fire station down the road, or dropping in for gossip at the Mercantile, the only local store, where the prices hurt so much, one hesitated before buying a packet of salt.

One of our lucky drifters nabbed a job with the Pipeline. Evenings, he'd throw open the door and topple into a worn leather chair, tossing a black garbage bag on the floor. The ladies would rummage inside for treasures discarded from the line tables: sandwiches in fancy baggies, iceberg lettuce, cold cuts, and kipper snacks. From our loft at night, we small folk peered down at at the commotion, and whispered back and forth in our own dialect until we drifted off.

Lahab Assef Al-Jundi - Exit


            How does one walk into a room without depth?
            Make himself comfortable on a blue line?
            How can one talk to his silent shadow?
            Escape the noisy footsteps of others?


In one of your pockets hides a door.


I was having a very rough day, when I read these gentle words, written by a human being whom I have had the privilege of "knowing" virtually for several years. 

Thank you, Assef.

From Assef's new book,

No Faith at All


Dip your love pen
Into the inkwell of truth,
And let your own
Holy hand


Sunday, February 02, 2014

10 Eggs

A large crowd had gathered in front of the one-story, low-slung reinforced concrete rectangle, fueled by a rumor that eggs might be available. I attempted in vain, to find the end of the line, asking, "Kto posledniy?" (Who is last?) An older woman who had taken it upon herself to organize the situation strode over and asked if I would wait in line for eggs. "Da," I assented. The scarf-clad woman gripped my hand in a powerful fist, spread it open, and scribbled the number, "921" on my palm with a ball point pen.

Standing in line for long periods of time afforded an opportunity for me to observe people. Middle aged or elderly women were in the majority. Each one had at least one large bag hanging off their arms, or draped over their shoulders: re-usable plastic bags with fading flower prints, dark, homemade fabric bags, bags crocheted by hand from rope, or heavy leather satchels.

The bags bulged with all manner of apples, potatoes, carrots, milk cartons, and freshly-washed bottles, waiting to be recycled. The women’s clothing was mostly drab: skirts and long wool coats in mature shades, but there were a few bright splashes of hair and lipstick--variations on the themes of henna and coral. Sedate scarves or hats finished off their attire. My own black wool scarf, smothered with roses, was more typical of the younger generation, or the gypsies. I wore it tied twice around my head, topped off with a green knit hat and a black wool coat.

There was a stir in the crowd ahead. A grey-haired matron was exclaiming, "You don’t know, ladies, what is going on. I have just returned from Ukraine, and I tell you it is evil, evil, what is happening, I do not know how it will end. This Rukh, this thing, it must stop!" A woman beside her took up the thread of the conversation, saying bluntly, "But the churches did belong to them, you know," and at that the matron exploded. "It is a terrible evil," she shouted, bending over so close, I thought she might hit the other woman. "My sister lives there, if this thing continues, I do not know what will happen to her. People are getting killed, blood is being spilled!"

Listening to this drama unfold, I nearly forgot why I was standing there, until I found myself at the front of the line, holding out my ration card. "Ten eggs into each pair of hands," pronounced the egg seller in an automatic voice, and exactly ten eggs were counted into my sack.

Moscow, 1991

Black Spruce

Surrounded by the harsh, the stark brown fell,
Slumbering, detained in a chill embrace,
Branches a-whorl, Boreal spruce abides:
Ever-green, poised in silent effulgence.

Splendor of needles, pungent acid wit,
Attendant of the vast eye of the sky,
While foolish birch maidens, naked, shiver,
You guard your reflection in moss and grass,

Bestowing on all the breath of sunshine,
Holding stalwart vigil, unasked, un-thanked--
Till a dryad emerges from hiding
To kiss this chalice of water and light.


House of Alaska IV

Little Britches had once ridden trick horses and witnessed fights over water rights near the site of my grandmother's home on the outskirts of Denver. Born in Calgary, Canada, of Irish heritage, Grandma never became a US citizen, although she observed every possible point of law. She was a Depression-infected worry-aholic, an expert seamstress, and a collector of curiosities--English bone china, wooden spools of silk thread, yarns, ribbons, rick-rack and fabrics of every shade and sheen. Grandma let us color plastic cups with markers and then melted them down in the oven into abstract swirls. On special occasions, she invited us into her bedroom, sang the flat-foot floozy with the floy floy, and chanted nursery rhymes until we drifted off to sleep.

Among my mother's friends in Denver were artists, photographers and potters. What a privilege it was, for example, to watch hands repeatedly throwing clay against a hard surface until it was pliable enough to then twirl on a wheel into a symmetrical form.

In May, we said farewell to  againDenver--to Aunt Alice's Wonderland, a daycare where ladies clad in smocks with big pockets threatened to thrust you into them if you were naughty. This was easy enough. Saying goodbye to our grandmother was not such a simple matter--

This time, perched between us in the backseat of the Datsun was a huge, slobbery cream-and-brown St. Bernard puppy, Yogi the Bear. We fell into the routine of driving, pounding tent stakes into the ground in the evenings, climbing into our sleeping bags, and stuffing them back into sacks into the mornings. When we reached Canada, we gladly climbed the ramp onto the ferry. My mother mentioned to us years later that we shared a ferry with Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

After disembarking, the washboard gravel AlCan awaited us, a road seemingly without end. Claustrophobic from pent-up wiggles, we finally reached The House of Alaska and ran out to greet the dogs. Mooner was slower in his circuits around his kennel. Not long afterwards, the dignified leader was let loose to wander into the woods, where he curled up under a tree and breathed his last. A rock cairn marked the spot: it was my first taste of such grief.

My sister and I gradually made friends with the baby girl to whose birth we owed our invitation to the North. Sara--Wee-Bee-- was a serious little thing. She had her father's porcelain complexion, dark chestnut curls, and brooding, inquisitive eyes. When beer was passed and shared, she grabbed the chipped, enameled cup and drank it down with gusto, astonishing her elders. She clung to our bodies, the closest to her size, while she toddled around, collecting dust from the plywood floors on her pajamas.

Many hands quickly accomplished the task of reassembling the cabin in front of the field. A gambrel roof sheltered a loft, reached by a ladder, where we smaller fry were dispatched with our camping pads and sleeping bags. An antique pot-belly stove and an enameled wood cook stove were installed, and then the place was ready for business.

We discovered how enormous the homestead was, one day, while everyone was out on a logging road, gathering firewood. My sister and I, in our eagerness, took a wrong turn in the woods, rushing and running until we realized that we were all alone, then we stopped and glanced around, suddenly afraid. We circled around nervously, until Al, a fisherman with huge red hands, emerged from around a corner and scooped us up, shooing us back in the direction of the group.

A small hippie.

the song of a shell sapphire melting inside jade a color unnamed Ofra Haza's version of this song defies categoriz...

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