Thinking of Marina Tsvetaeva
by Robert Bohm
Like her 2-year-old Irina, tied
to the table leg so she, mama,
can leave for hours, there are things
that must be kept in place.
But which? Already
change was Moscow’s insomnia. Sometimes
sex anchors Marina long enough so she can put on
her wings. That’s when
body goes into soul mode. The poems come then.
One day it’s 1921, the next 1917 & then . . .
Her nerves are like trains crammed with peasants
who slobber over the accusations on the walls –
Leeches! Bourgeois filth!
With Sergey off fighting the reds, what’s
a wife to do?
The city’s in upheaval.
Nannies & cooks, refusing to work, prowl
the streets in gangs, climb
through broken windows, yank
books from shelves, then dig in the gaps between words for what they know is there: the
from which syllables are spawned.
Not far off
the tsar’s favorites stare poetically at old samovars.
Is the river
really on fire?
The night goes up in flames.
Her flights of fancy, getting only as far
as skullbone lets them, smell
of dirt & bitter herbs. With a hint
of la-la land thrown in.
But not always.
Knowing which knots hold best & which don’t, that
is true realism.
As with firing squads & tinsmithing, effort matters but
in the end it’s what results that counts.
A relative, a violinist, once taught her
how to steal apricots from a cart.
What a romantic insolence
she thinks approvingly now, also remembering
her mother hunched over the piano like a man
gutting a fish in a hut in Koktebel, a Black Sea town.
Pieces of old furniture burn
in the wood stove as her mind wanders. Whatever
disappears unseen through the chimney pipe, the word smoke
doesn’t quite define it. It’s snowing again. The wind’s
shrill shrieking annoys her. She won’t
be told what to do.
Lifetimes come & go
– Moscow, Berlin, Prague, Paris, Yelabuga.
Her cuckolded husband dead, one daughter in jail
& the other, Irina, long ago
untying the rope that bound her to the table leg, ended up
a corpse in an orphanage.
One day walking in the cold, Marina spots
a whore leaning against a soldier
as the duo stumble drunk down the street –
while the woman places one hand on his crotch
with the other she slides
the wallet from his back pocket.
What a slut Freedom is, Marina later rants.
A hawk hunting a fieldmouse
in fields buried under Moscow’s walkups,
her imagination seeks what it can’t find:
Because she’s like the rest of us, she’s easy
Contradiction her addiction, she’s
a real czarina of knots
– secure baby with this one,
use this one to leash what language forgot,
or, here, employ this one to tie what we know of logic in knots
– why not?
She recalls what a favorite author once wrote:
“There’s no happiness in life, only peace, sometimes.”
Hair gray now, she looks around one day
& it’s August – she’s back, east
of Moscow, east of Novgorod. Close by
the sound of 2 rivers merging is her mind
roaring between her ears.
A noose, she realizes, is nothing but a zero
made of rope.
After sticking in her neck, she kicks away the chair.
That’s it. The poetry stops.
bedraggled angel with an itch between her legs
monumental poet-genius with a fading dacha up her sleeve
the wind is her imagination, a mess of changing currents, howling through lindens in search of what it never finds
My sweet suicide.
No matter how different she and I are, I’m faithful to her
beyond the end, standing here
on the grave’s wrong side.
If it was still possible, Marina, I’d do
for you what you told Mr. Pushkin you’d do for him:
squeeze your hand