Tag Archives: Osip Mandelstam

To Read Aleksander Blok

is to search the internet for Russian poetry in vain attempts

for conversation starters, for new reasons to leave my stool

and find novel and nerdy ways to say, How are you this evening?

It is to be riveted to the bar, drunk and dreaming

of your Volgograd, one I never saw and never frequented

its taverns and winding city streets with you on my arm –

you, always on my arm, teaching me how the motherland

really calls, taking me through the real city,  the real Russia,

real Eastern Europe with a love of butter, mayonnaise, beer —

and not the one Americans like me thought they read about

on Wikipedia – where a colossal concrete woman on a hill

wields a sword and gestures to the clouds, to the skyline

and to skyscrapers with an outreached and welcoming hand,

yet telling me how you can see a statue, a Slavic world, a pride

of a people and never totally stand in its tremendous shadow;

is to sit in a bar and steal glimpses of you and your silken hair,

long and flowing like the Volga and wish I could forever be

entangled there and in your arms;  it is to have a heart aflame,

seething, and jealous when you politely smile at other men;

it is to wonder how  your ancestors huddled in the rubble

and ruin of a besieged Stalingrad and trained their rifles

against invading fascists — and yet lived to raise lovely children;

is to practice pick-up lines using honest Anna Akhmatova

logic about the true meanings of smoldering, burning gazes,

and to fail to utter real words when you stand next to me;

is to not read Alexander Blok at  all; is to be in total wonder

and stare at the bubbles in my pint of beer and ask: Will she

walk through the bar’s door tonight? Will she sit next to me?

Will she mention Mandelstam this time? Or laugh out loud

about Gogol and his notorious nose? How can I parse her

every word for profound meaning and romantic musings?

Reading Alexander Blok is to be reminded of the Russia

I daydreamed about as a sullen, heartbroken teenager

in Holland, stumbling from an American Air Force Base

and into an Utrecht anarcho-syndicalist bookstore and see

portraits of Trotsky, Bakunin, and Mayakovsky glower

over texts discounted and marked down for clearance;

It is to be reminded of other Russian writers, barren and bleak

snow swept steppes, Cossacks atop horses, charging

into hopeless battles and knowing they will never return;

it is to be an American who spent half of his life outside

America, seeking – always seeking – to find meaning

In every country he saw, every friend’s nationality around him,

only to find home in the lonely pages of Russian literature;

sometimes to read Alexander Blok is to not read him at all;

sometimes it’s to be reminded of who you don’t want to be:

it is to think somewhere else in time, Mayakovsky allegedly

spun a partially loaded revolver on his desk – only to pick it up

and push the muzzle against his chest, against his heart

and fire;

it is to know the dark alleys of my mind and become very afraid

every time my cold heart thaws and beats afresh, as obsessions

and crushes are twisting, woodland pathways into oblivion.

Yet even then,

 it still yearning to kiss you deeply and needing to fully know the nuances and complexities and honesty of your native tongue.