Daytime Begins with a Line by Anna Akhmatova
The round, hanging lanterns,
lit faces in a window of the Marble Palace
Catherine the Great built for a lover,
with the Field of Mars below,
snow falling inside two minds.
One translated Babylonian folktales
so the other could stand in line early morning
for bread at the House of Scholars.
A touch of dawn was again nightfall,
their room furnished with scattered papers,
rare books, a couch with springs poking out,
a bookcase, a floral pitcher, a china cabinet,
a naked light bulb dangling over a table.
Did the two poets learn it took more
to sing & reflect the burning icy stars
of poetry where privilege & squalor
lived beneath the same ornate ceiling?
Did they tiptoe from the wintery dusk
of the servants’ wing, follow the pseudo-
Gothic stairs up to the forbidden aromas
of Turkish tobacco, sugar, & exotic teas?
Sometimes, they kept themselves warm
with talk of the empress’s love of horses
as they galloped another century. Then,
sketches of their time at the Stray Dog
lit the air around those neoclassic nights,
& maybe they also spoke about “Venice
rotting with gold” near the Arctic Circle,
& anger almost kept them warm on days
they bent over pages of snow-blindness
where tears brought them to laughter.