Mennonite Poetry Home | Leonard Neufeldt



Notes on a Moscow Evening

From a nerve bed too firm
and an almost-nap to a slight knock.
You mince steps to the door,
listen, pull open to a singular nothing
but cold air from somewhere else
passing through. You walk to the window
where the day or what’s left of it lives.
A pigeon’s pell-mell of wings
leaves the ledge for the Stalinist massif
across the street, a people’s architecture
of acquiescence, so many rows
of darkening panes, their smallness told
with blunt definition like the syntax
of bullet holes in Mexico City.
Daylight glooming as streetlamps
ignite, as rondos of traffic lights
change each other but repeat themselves,
as a ramrod reach of construction cranes
measures evening’s silhouettes
of scaffolding and fading vinyl shrouds


You know that even flawed attention
becomes sounds and sounds become attention
whether hearing aids are turned on or off
as you walk the street at night,
which you will do when the interview
of the milky-eyed professor is done.
Arms folded like a Buddha he tells
the TV host it’s time for journalists
to crawl out from under the rubble of what
was said and done because of the times,
to forgive the past and, yes, even
today’s mistakes,
unlike those who left or writers
who stayed to brood anxieties
outlasting centuries. “Ours
is the only future Russia will see”:
the pause cadenced by the host’s hands
as though silence is music, which it may
well be tonight but you still want to answer
for him doesn’t the future, like virtue,
always take some getting used to?


At yesterday morning’s street corners
no green space needed for poets
in unimpeachable bronze astride
broad-hipped pedestals. All day
they carry on one-sided conversations
with their hands, their work still not done
because there are those who tried to write
their way out of Russia in poems simple
and mysterious as a stamped exit visa
or tried to find themselves
in a future mostly memorized
that keeps on returning

Somewhere you have read
there are countries whose real name
nobody knows, not even their best poets —
that yearning, hope beyond hope
in Mandelstam and Akhmatova


The second day’s language lesson
louder than the bus: “good morning
how are you pardon me thank you please
yes no” repetitions not ready for sideway
jolts or entrancement possibilities,
yet words rehearsed as if to stake a new day,
its rockings and this city, to your life

Those loudspeaker recitals still whispering
to you in the street noise tonight.
Let them be. You walk by the bench
you’ve occupied before:
a lump of inwardness wrapped round
by rat-grey rags, the body seeming
not really there. Perhaps you should stop;
you look back from the subway maw —
Starbucks and Burger King ablaze

Night’s sweet-sour has followed you
to the river like a subway thief’s curiosity.
An hour you’ve stood here, sight clear,
eyeglasses free of rain, umbrella closed,
ankle throbbing because of unlit
rottenness of steps steep down
to the water whose murky name the city
stole long ago, the Moskva stretching wide
to claim city lights in longer length,
hold their shivering in place
against the current


Moskva. Why do you want to know
how this word gathered itself
centuries ago from free-floating
syllables? It doesn’t belong to you
any more than the answer
from yesterday’s blue-uniform guide
“This building, sir, Lubyanka,
never housed a prison and there’s no wall
once used by firing squads”
although my wife’s father said
it’s simple prayers colleagues left behind
in the bedlam of guards and iron doors
that he heard most clearly in his cell.
And there’s a blue eyeshadow stare
and microphone held like a finger to the lips
that was meant to save you and your wife,
help you find words without corridors
or echoes, words without a past,
words firmly taken care of, almost casual,
form fully itself. Form as content
and alien as a father’s memoir
or overnight British passport
wrapped in embassy papers,
exit visa, and subterfuge,
alien as this hour before midnight
far from Canada,
memorizing the river’s soundless drift,
how lights stay where they are,
where they have been since you arrived
and touched the mud slightly
with your shoe

You reach behind for the stairs’ brokenness




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