"To think that we could have had an ordinary family life with its bickering, broken hearts and divorce suits! There are people in the world so crazy as not to realize that this is normal human existence of the kind everybody should aim at. What wouldn’t we have given for such ordinary heartbreaks!"
–Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope against Hope: A Memoir
(translated from the Russian by Max Hayward, 1970)
Frailty makes you strong with words beyond death.
The State does not know what to do with you.
What you leave behind is fed to the flames
whose words the living carry in their memories.
I would run by the river reciting Mandelstam
now that he’s gone to the unmarked grave
Stalin reserved for him in his humorless rage.
No one I know, however, can English Russian,
his in particular: Osip near Dante’s house in the sky.
So his widow honors the secret history of her heart.
The world that destroyed them always returns.
Assassins are common, they pay their own way
to be paid by the State a much higher wage than poets.
Are there assassins who assassinate assassins?
Do they swagger with their hair parted down
the middle, never missing a look their way, rising
in the smoke of cabarets and clubs, coming over
to your table, a pocketed hand bulging with promises
and pious braggadocio, You wish to fuck with us?
Power is so lucrative, you have to admire its politics.
It is only the delicate victims who are survived
by wildflowers: poppies, daisies, bluebells, buttercups.
Stand in the field and tick off their names. There are names
so human now they are lost to time, but I hate secrecy,
toss petals in the Volga, and currents catch them and carry
their cargo of beauty to the shrouded coves we call history.
(23 June, 15 July 2012)