Saturday, August 27, 2016

Before The Revolution II

Before the Revolution innocence was possible

Maidens wore their hair in braids or in private, loose.

Pinafores over their dresses, parasols with satin ribbons

They laced up their bodice tightly to have

a waist that a man could circle with his hands and

even forget in gesturing a teacup set on their bust.

We had picnics on the manicured lawns with

rustic baskets and embossed napkins in silver rings,

It strained pretence that we were in midst of a bucolic scene.

The servants were requisitioned to play along in wigs

And reverse roles with us, as shepherdesses and swains.

There was time for time.  for thought

but even its very quality was of a different order.

It could be stretched to encompass little and large tasks

 For short love missives and lengthy treatises.

Time for the tedium of interminable Sunday visits

The endless arguments about the existence of God

The merits of emancipating serfs or freeing slaves.

There was time for sitting around the samovar with cups

 Or to embroider our trousseau nightgowns and tablecloths.

And even time to separate one by one the spine from feathers

in the long winter nights in front of the fireplace

as proper girls were told to embroider the wedding quilt.

Only to discover eighty years later in the attic gloom

amidst clouds of feathers in the air and wild laughter

that babushka had not been such a good girl after all,

and not separated the feather spine for down.

Before the Revolution innocence was possible.

We sat around drinking tea with Great-Aunt Agafyevna

And begged her to retell about her meeting Vladimir Illich

in Lake Como in the Summer before the Finland Station.

And all she could say is that he had terrible table manners

did not know how to properly crook his little finger on

a dainty cup, and she smirked at his class so openly

that she made us cringe with shame. Later though

we laughed ourselves silly at her pretentiousness and

did not dare to voice our doubts about the choices we made.

Before the Revolution innocence was possible.

You sat with us having afternoon tea and blinis and with such ease

lectured on disparities in Nietzsche’s and Kierkegaard’s thought.

That despite stating I prized intellect above manners I paused

and asked myself if we were a good match after all?

I wondered how the cool civility between us could be bridged

since you gave the appearance of courting to all but me.

Then came the Chaos before the Terror that disrupted our lives

There was a great movement of horses and men, fire and floods.

Displaced people in confusion fleeing in trains and ships.

The Reds were upon us, the White’s cavalry still some distance away,

No time now for curtsies or tea or clicks of heel or graceful reverence.

I saw you stand with horse in hand and weep for the loss of a way of life,

And over polish your saddle in wait for orders to join your regiment,

and I knew then that the Revolution that had taken everything away

had given me this, a possibility to break away from my mold.

I sought you out to breech our distance and contain your grief,

And felt your soften and harden by turns in my embrace.

And as we bared ourselves to each, Russia was laid asunder.

You and I turned our faces West but for our dreams.

Antonia Baranov

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Sister, Myself

                               No one came to her funeral,

                               in the inimitable logic of the family

                               it was held in Puerto Ordaz

                               where no one knew her.

                               In the Tropics burials are not delayed,      
                               and there  were  those that held that

                               the need  for haste was strange.

                              The obligatory Mass was said,

                               Her  favourite flowers , gardenias, sent.

                               Incense  was heavy  in the air if not sorrow.

                                 But this is all by way of conjecture,

                               I was not there, no one in the family

                               notified  me of her death.

                               This parallels another such event

                               When my Roma grandmother died, 

                                and her daughters  busied quarreling

                                amongst themselves  forgot

                                to inform their brother.

                                Yet within minutes of her death I was

                               called by hospital staff, for in Ciudad Bolivar

                               a town in the mouth of the Orinoco’s muddy waters,

                               I’m well known, albeit for patronage of lost causes.

                            My Sister and I, shall we say,

                            had a complicated relationship,

                            We reflected each other through

                            a warped mirror of family loyalties

                            and betrayals, more alike than not.

                            She was the being who loved me the most

                           on earth and hated me with equal ardour

                           and at times,  both at once.

                           Never could fathom the source of the intensity,

                           of either,  and for the most part did not care.

                           Her  voracity for luxuries and indolence.

                           did not abate with age.

                           Perhaps my portrayal is unfair,

                           she could be profligate in generosity

                           and charm,

                          But I have yet to grieve, yet to forgive.

                        Antonia Baranov  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Exiled Dreams

                       Anointed by your sweat,  brackish and sweet by turn

                        a mantle against  the exile of waking.

                       Weaving nightly chimeras  into shimmering tropics,

                        retracing terrain  by yearning made familiar.

                        It is thus I dream you.

                       Seeking, seeking the unnamable.

                       The tenuous mooring of memory

                       all that remains to bind us.

                        Forsworn the small  comforts  and domesticities,

                        and  forbear words for the knowing you exist
                        in that silence.

                                                                                                                                           Antonia Baranov

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


                                         You sat amicably abstracted amid all,

                                       already absent. Each still wanting a piece of you. 

                                       By habit you worked the room ambling

                                       like a walrus, unable to resist making deals

                                       that no longer mattered . For the lunches you politicked
                                       to secure my position alone, you gained three stone.

                                       I glanced at your wife in crimson dress with
                                       Sephardic hooded eyes, black like grapes.
                                       The uneasy alliance made so many years ago
                                        and kept fitfully straight still holds…

                                        In public you do not acknowledge her

                                        sitting  on a different table, back to back.                                         
                                        I said to you then about her in feigned surprise: 

                                       “It was a mature choice!”  And you reddened with pleasure?

                                        We hovered on a line that was never crossed.

                                         But I recall the day you warned me when alone

                                         as if in segue way, though nothing was previously said:

                                         "I am a man of habit not quick to change!"

                                          In private moments the enormity of

                                         of what was left unsaid echoed in my ears.
                                         No regret now but I recall that day when she accepted
                                          bread and salt from my hands. It was done.  

                                          Not clear in retrospect that I had not ensnared myself.

                                          At another occasion I looked at your workman like hands

                                          in public near enough to touch . I felt a girdle of fire   

                                         and found what had eluded me in so many beds. 

                                         The mystery and simplicity of it, marvels me still.

                                                                                                Antonia Baranov

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Loss in the Forest of Compiegne

                   Loss n the forest of Compiegne
There was more to the story and less

than previously said

The details sometimes intrude on my reverie.

But shall their baring bring  respite now?

I rode back in a daze from the forest of Compiegne

In my boots seeped profusely, crimson blood.

But I was confused thinking it was the stallion

who rubbed me against trees having failed to unseat

as I been forewarned he would, But was it out of hubris

 as a rider led to persist in this Amazonian dare?

In seeming male allegiance with the stallion

the grooms guffawed at my dishevelled appearance

The situation was fraught with awkwardness, I a guest

at the Chateau thought it was prudent to return to Paris…

                                                                   From prying eyes on the train ride back                                                                                              
Attempted  to cover drying blood on my breeches

What was left for me to do was to elaborate a new life

for the one eschewed, of bringing up a child alone.

My pride would not allow me to contact you then

though the most joyous day of my life had been when

in a letter you had  offered to divorce your wife.

I ran to the forest of St Germain nearby to read it alone

But I had not heard from you in months and now?

How to forge a new life without the life I thought I had.

On my return I found your yellow roses in my room,

I strew them around in a cloud of petals in a rage

but managed to saved a single one to press

in remembrance of this day. I wonder if I have it still?

The pain is mostly gone and I smile at my silliness now.

And wonder whether it was necessary now to recall.

Did not tell even you, for six more years and when I did,

you wept.  In the intervening years silence grew around

the subject that I began to wonder if you had forgotten it,

or perhaps had began to think it had not happened at all

and even I, began to doubt…

                                                                                                                                            Antonia Baranov                         

From Maiquetia to Orly and Back

Waves of wild parrots screeched at dawn as common

as Europe’s sparrows will be tomorrow, I thought.

But remember our last night with you in my lap asleep so still

like Christ off the cross held by a sculpted  Mater Dolorosa.

The absurdity of the comparison did not escape my notice

even then, you my adulterous lover and I all of fifteen.

It is not clear that we will have another night such as this

I imbibe your sleeping presence through my cells, your breath

precious ether, I see the throb of your fine veins by candlelight

and imagine its music so even unlike my erratic rhythm.

I have already said my adieus to Avila, my mountain protector,

and at the beach stared at the Antillean sea so ink dark,

etching it in memory as I do your sleeping face silhouetted on

the wall across, now imagining the countenance of a fallen warrior.

I have packed and repacked my valises, left open for days

For all to see and argue about contents in the Russian fashion.

My Grandmother  surreptitiously puts edibles for the long journey.

She does not imagine I will be properly fed in Paris.

A silent battles ensues between us as would have

I suppose with my mother had she been still alive.

It is always like this I don’t know why we continue to engage…

But her body language as I kiss signals her victory and tired

of this game, I shrug, and run to  Maiquetia already late.

At one end of airport terminal stands my father and

at the other in temporary truce, my lover. As if they

had convened and negotiated terms of engagement

as generals did prior to an 18th century battle.

I flit from one to the other wearing each their gifts.

A watch from my father and a discreet ring from him.

The jet for France arrives and I anguish if I should flee again

with  my lover to Caracas. But not this time I say.

Paris awaits .  He whispers, you will forget me.

I plead that he should know I will not .

I don’t know what to offer as solace in my place.

I think of cutting off  my braid and offering it as pledge

But it seems an empty gesture, unseemly.

My father weeps openly, profusely, being a foreigner,

My grief a frozen river swells, not expressed in tears

And you so silent at the end, so restrained.

I waited for your letters and did in Paris what young girls did then

Attend L’Opera, Comedie Francaise, the Louvre, the Jeu de Paume.

Bought boots, glove, scarves, at Hermes in the Faubourg St Honore

as my mother had done, correct as young girls should I’m told

But then I ran away from boarding school stayed up until dawn

at the Gare St Lazaire.  I explained to the Consul my dream was

to attend the Sorbonne .I almost ran away again but compromised

settled in  what was a pension in Montparnasse,14 Rue de Stanislas.

Met old ladies in cafes  that had been models for

Modigliani and Matisse and  more recently Soutine.

Foreign painters took over my aesthetic education, became briefly a model,

You stopped writing the letters that nurtured me. I waited in my hotel

day by day for the four-thirty Poste but nothing came in four whole months.

Do you know what an eternity four months is when you’re fifteen?

Then on my birthday you sent a bouquet of yellow roses. Yellow? I asked.

Finally I tired of your silence. met a young writer who as sole prerequisite

had to be as different from you as possible. We lived in free apartments of a countess, Santis and would have to move in a days notice, a lark really.

Then you threatened to come but I fled Paris for Barcelona and then Ibiza

But you managed to find me there and as pretext asked me to translate

an obscure poem  you’d lent me. I understood the theme of the poem was

a barely diffuse threat to my new lover. Went back quietly to Paris but there

was not a day or an hour that my thoughts were not with you.

A year passed and I planned my return to Venezuela

to settle various family matters and was myself carrying

a child that should  have been yours.

Again in Maiquetia as I glanced at the welcoming crowd

I saw a figure briefly, dressed in sailing whites, and knew it to be you.

I braced myself for our encounter and it came soon enough

that very evening you led me to everyplace we met for our

clandestine trysts and even the very spot where one night

I saw a reflection in your windshield which I mistook for

a constellation of stars to your continual amusement.

You entreated and offered to be a father to the child.

I was not moved. The child had to be taken to the father I said.

It was a simple as law. It was written thus in my code as was

later when I left the father to surrender to him my sons.

Yet I did not return to you then because you thought that I would

not surmount the pain. You were right. I did not. I became what

I am today, someone who has walked through fire and back.

It is late in the day for these cogitations, but here I am still.

                                                                                                                                                                                       Antonia Baranov