Russia Notebook

by Carl Boon


Fragile, remembered landscapes
begin for her—her father returning
from the woods, a shotgun wrapped in canvas
plastered to his shoulder, the neck
of a duck in each fist.

She’s crossed to the kitchen window
to watch. By the barks of the dogs, November’s
begun descending into winter,
and she thinks he must be cold.

The borscht warm on the stove,
she arranges blankets and things for tea,
not knowing why he prefers the chipped glass,
the burnt bread, the jam
of a distant season’s apricots.


They’d chosen them on a Black Sea holiday
the August her mother died.
She’d liked the way they felt in her hands,
the way the sun touched the rocks
at Yalta, her father bargaining

with the Lvov men over caviar.
As their beige Lada curled against the sea,
she listened to her mother’s breathing—
the pallor and the marred bones.

At Alupka they ate fried potatoes
and glanced at the tanned foreigners,
the Germans and Dutch come down
to swim and place hot stones
on their skin. They seemed vengeful.


Even in August, threads of snow
pierced the mountains north of Simferopol.
Sixteen hours to Moscow, a seventeenth
to where their village lay
aside broken wheat and disused farms.

She carried a story that could touch
the world, this Viktoria spinning past
girlhood toward the despised, lives
of overcoats and men concerned with trees.

She’d stacked seven pine cones in the back
of the car to remind her of different land,
the sun, the landing of magpies.
She’d stacked them as a child does
with toys for tomorrow.


The borscht has begun to boil;
the steam it gives good for him to shave,
to towel the frozen from his face. But first
she brings the pepper shaker to the table
and straightens the tablecloth.

It’s gone unwashed and unironed
since her mother died, but when their elbows
touch the rain begins with better thoughts:
her blue swimsuit immersed in the sea,

her pelmeni with mushrooms,
how she unwrapped the New Year’s gifts
and saved the paper for another day.
Now there are plates to rinse
and the cat needs her array of bones.


They buried her in a space flanked
by elms and blackberry. They buried her
with the spade she’d used to split rocks,
to make her garden beautiful—pumpkins
and zucchini, tomatoes to jar.

Soon the second winter must descend on her,
the snow of her ancestors, the soil
not giving way—and Viktoria believes
against all fact she sings in it,

makes rhythm against the stillness of death.
The borscht cooling, they plan
their lonely hours: Father will memorize
the Gospels and she’ll resew the buttons
on his flannel shirts, also singing.

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