Chekhov, at Yalta
A winter evening at the cottage by the bay,
And I sat in the black and gold of the dead garden
Wrapped in blankets, eating my sister’s suet pudding.
The fountain was wrapped in dirty straw and
Just below my property in the old Tartar cemetery
There was a small funeral in progress: the widow
Is wearing a purple shawl, the children are bare around
The shoulders and the girls are wearing orange petals
At their throats. The ashen white beards of the men
Are like immaculate vests from this distance.
There is nothing more intolerable than suet pudding,
Unless it is the visitors. The drunken visitors laughing
In my kitchen, eating my duck and venison, while I hide
From them here in the dark garden.
The daughter of one of these gentlemen is pretty.
I saw her through the window drinking
Champagne from a clay mug—just under her thin blouse
I saw the blue points of her breasts that turn,
In opposition, both out and up like the azure slippers
Of the priest who is now singing in the cemetery below my house.
Once the family has gone off with its torches I’ll
Climb down to the fresh grave and drop some coins
For flowers, even wooden teeth for the widow so she can
Attract a new husband? The black, turned soil
Or our garden reminds me
Of the common grave given to the children
Of the Godunov Orphanage after that horrible fire:
A charred horse was thrown in with them,
Bags of lime, and what I understood to be a large ham
That the authorities, nevertheless, declared
The torso of a male child of nine or ten. The Czar,
In their memory, placed a tiny trout pond over them
And this inscription: A blue blanket for my little ones.
My wife goes nearly naked to parties in Moscow.
My sister here, at Yalta, goes sea bathing with a rope
Around her that runs back to the beach where it is
Attached to a donkey who is commanded by a servant
With a long switch.
The sea tows her out and then the donkey is whipped
Sorrowfully until he has dragged her back to them.
I named the donkey, Moon, after the mystery of his service
To my sister. This winter
He has been an excellent friend.
I read to this poor beast from Three Sisters. He is a better
Critic and audience than I could find in the cities.
I have won an Award that will save me from arrest anywhere
Inside Russia. I am going to refuse it! And then travel
To Nice or Paris.
My tuberculosis is worse. Tolstoi reads my stories
To his family after supper. And reads them badly, I suppose!
I did walk that evening all the way down to the cemetery
Only to discover that my pockets were empty.
I screamed up to the house for coins, for plenty
Of coins! The visitors, laughing and singing, ran down
To me without coats and with a lantern swinging—
My sister trailed behind them
On her donkey. Her square black hat
Bobbing like a steamer way out in the bay.
And when they reached me—
I said, “Sister, pack the trunks! You hurt me!
I will write that we have departed for France, for Italy.”