You were never told, Mother, how old Illya was drunk That last holiday, for five days and nights He stumbled through Petersburg forming A choir of mutes, he dressed them in pink ascension gowns And, then, sold Father's Tirietz stallion so to rent A hall for his Christmas recital: the audience Was rowdy but Illya in his black robes turned on them And gave them that look of his; the hall fell silent And violently he threw his hair to the side and up Went the baton, the recital ended exactly one hour Later when Illya suddenly turned and bowed And his mutes bowed, and what applause and hollering Followed. All of his cronies were there! Illya told us later that he thought the voices Of mutes combine in a sound Like wind passing through big, winter pines. Mother, if for no other reason I regret the war With Japan for, you must now be told, It took the servant, Illya, from us. It was confirmed. He would sit on the rocks by the water and with his stiletto Open clams and pop the raw meats into his mouth And drool and laugh at us children. We hear guns often, now, down near the village. Don't think me a coward, Mother, but it is comfortable Now that I am no longer Czar. I can take pleasure From just a cup of clear water. I hear Illya's choir often. I teach the children about decreasing fractions, that is A lesson best taught by the father. Alexandra conducts the French and singing lessons. Mother, we are again a physical couple. I brush out her hair for her at night. She thinks that we'll be rowing outside Geneva By the spring. I hope she won't be disappointed. Yesterday morning while bread was frying In one corner, she in another washed all of her legs Right in front of the children. I think We became sad at her beauty. She has a purple bruise On an ankle. Like Illya I made her chew on mint. Our Christmas will be in this excellent barn. The guards flirt with your granddaughters and I see... I see nothing wrong with it. Your little one, who is Now a woman, made one soldier pose for her, she did Him in charcoal, but as a bold nude. He was Such an obvious virgin about it; he was wonderful! Today, that same young man found us an enormous azure And pearl samovar. Once, he called me Great Father And got confused. He refused to let me touch him. I know they keep your letters from us. But, Mother, The day they finally put them in my hands I'll know that possessing them I am condemned And possibly even my wife, and my children. We will drink mint tea this evening. Will each of us be increased by death? With fractions as the bottom integer gets bigger, Mother, it Represents less. That's the feeling I have about This letter. I am at your request, The Czar. And I am Nicholas.
Norman Dubie - 1945-
The Novel as Manuscript
—an ars poetica I remember the death, in Russia, of postage stamps like immense museum masterpieces patchwork wrapped in linen, tea stained, with hemp for strapping... these colored stamps designed for foreign places were even printed during famine— so when they vanished, so did the whole Soviet system: the Berlin Wall, tanks from Afghanistan and Ceausescu's bride before a firing squad. It had begun with the character of Yuri Zhivago in a frozen wilderness, the summer house of his dead in-laws, his pregnant mistress asleep before the fireplace with flames dancing around a broken chair, piano keys and the gardener's long black underwear. Lara lying there. A vulgar fat businessman coming by sleigh to collect her for the dangers of a near arctic escape... But for Yuri, not that long ago, he was with celebrity, a young doctor publishing a thin volume of poems in France, he was writing now at a cold desk poems against all experience and for love of a woman buried in moth-eaten furs on the floor— while he wrote wolves out along the green treeline howled at him. The author of this novel, Boris Pasternak arranged it all. Stalin would have liked to have killed him. But superstition kept him from it. So, the daughter of Pasternak's mistress eventually is walking with a candle through a prison basement— she is stepping over acres of twisted corpses hoping to locate her vanished mother... she thinks this reminds her of edging slowly over the crust on a very deep snow, just a child who believes she is about to be swallowed by the purity of it all, like this write your new poems.