a Journal of Poetry and the Arts
Carol V. Davis
The Fisherman and the Golden Fish
Because I have settled in the far north of Russia
where the snow itself breathes in the absence
of any real plant life and drifts grow
from the pavement like cells multiplying,
it is late April and still no sign of thaw.
The city’s only color – green swirls
in the gauze skirts of gypsies who jostle
for money at the doorway of Finland Station,
where Lenin still scowls at the people in line,
To escape the dreariness, my six year old and I
join the Saturday throngs on the sagging metro,
exit at the station that collapsed into the oozing earth,
where the bones of countless peasants lie.
Then board a bus to the next station,
as accepting of this fate as any Russian.
We trudge on to the Pushkin Children’s Theater.
The air heavy with unwashed wool and mud-caked boots.
Where once Young Pioneers waved small red flags
in the years before Perestroika, now the empty plaza
planted with the grey slush that carpets
the streets for months at a time.
Every day I write lists of words I don’t know,
tear them into scraps, thrust them under my tongue
for safekeeping, until they spill over my body,
coating my limbs like shimmering scales.
The curtain opens and women in blue
flutter chiffon scarves. Sway of their torsos,
the in-and-out of waves. Lulled by the rhythm,
we can almost taste the spray, feel the warmth,
now as foreign to us Californians as we
ourselves are here to the native born.
The fisherman casts his net on the water
and it expands with sea-slime, while a swell
of violins imitate the metronome of the waves.
Again he casts and the strings tumble with seaweed.
I watch my daughter for signs of confusion.
Instead her face fills slowly with pleasure.
Casting a third time, he pulls in a golden fish
that begs for freedom, promising to grant his wish.
The fisherman untangles her from the meshes,
releases her with a gentleness unknown in his life.
Returning to his wife, he explains the great wonder:
The golden fish speaks our language!
This worthless bundle of rags could not
be my husband, the wife thinks in kind.
Her screams darken the air into a swarm of locusts.
The story familiar: the greedy old wife
scolding her husband’s foolishness.
My daughter, oblivious to her poor
comprehension, clings to this story,
eagerly embracing an impossible reality.
Seduced by the fishwife’s new
sable-trimmed jacket, the brocaded dress
heavy with pearls. Yet she pities the old man
who succumbs to his wife’s demands.
As I do, if only in this life
The New Russia
More a wave than a drift
the flakes churn, white froth arcing
over the fierce wind.
First blizzard of the season,
though elm leaves still shine like a constellation
of yellow suns against the morning gray.
The kind of day Americans
Snow, buildings drained of color.
Dreary grandmothers weighed
down with sacks of potatoes and beets.
It’s not like that anymore.
Now the spiked heels
of young women clatter down the pavement
toward the open mouths of designer stores.
No more hooded kiosks
line the boulevards where customers bought
dark loaves cut in half and men
stood about waving beer bottles.
This is the new Russia
of suntans from Egyptian holidays,
gated houses with security cameras,
foreign cars and chauffeurs waiting at the curb.
Still when the church bells summon
the faithful and the government shuts down another
newspaper it’s hard to remember what century this is.
I have been thinking how the body
is a vulture - all avarice and need.
How longing creeps up, stalking
for days, catches with such force
it leaves you breathless.
It doesn't matter witnesses remain
One month since I arrived
in this city of water and fading light
where the wind slaps between decrepit
palaces lining the canals and everyone
eats ice cream even on the coldest days.
It's true I can get by now.
The bakery clerks no longer
call out counter-lady to cashier
(louder than necessary)
as if poor language skills
were a handicap like deafness.
Maybe they're right;
it's easier to swallow
the sentences than to pull
them out like an old rag
caught in the gullet of a heron.
If taste on the tongue
cannot be verbalized
how can a woman differentiate
between dozens of pickles
displayed at Kuznetchny Market,
the purveyors chanting
Try this. Sweet. Crunchy.
All you could hope for.
On the line, calls disconnect,
not from politics but a wire system
so shabby laughter vanishes
as it's vocalized.
I tell my husband
The weather is getting cold. I am fine.
Does he believe me? He shouldn't.
Later on the street as I wait
for my children, my gaze drifts
to a pair of lovers and settles there
perhaps too comfortably
while the body begins a low dirge:
I need. I need.