Saturday, August 27, 2016

Before The Revolution

Before the Revolution innocence was possible

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

Pinafores over their dresses, parasol with satin ribbons.

They laced up their bodice tightly to have a waist

small enough that a man could circle with his hands and

 busts were lifted so teacups could be poised on them

 even forget at times that it was there…

We had picnics on the manicured lawns with rustic baskets

 full of wild flowers, embossed napkins in silver rings,

The servants were requisitioned to play along in powdered wigs

and reverse roles with us, as shepherdesses and swains.

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

There was time for time.  For reverie or thought

but even in its core it had a quality of a different order.

It could be stretched to encompass grandiose or small tasks,

 To write short love missives or lengthy treatises.

Time for the tedium of interminable Sunday visits, rites.

The endless arguments about the existence of God

The merits of emancipating the serfs or not.

There was time for sitting around the samovar,

Warmed through the glass by setting sun.

And even time in the long Winter nights

In front of the fireplace to separate one by one,

quill from feather as proper girls were wont to do

to do filling their wedding quilts.

Only to discover eighty years later in the attic gloom

amidst clouds of feathers and wild laughter

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


Before the Revolution innocence was possible.

We sat around sipping tea with Great-Aunt Agafyevna

And begged her to retell her meeting Vladimir Illich

in Lake Como in the Summer before the Finland Station.

Only to hear her say that he had terrible table manners,

 and did not know how to properly crook his little finger

 around a dainty cup. 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 choices we had made.


Before the Revolution innocence was possible.

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

discoursed on disparities in Nietzsche’s and Kierkegaard’s thought

 and other such lofty matters.

That I, despite stating I prized intellect above manners

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 me to all…


Then came the chaos before the Terror that disrupted our lives.

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

Displaced people fled in confusion in trains and ships.

The Reds were upon us, the Whites cavalry still some distance away.

No time now for tea, curtsies or click of heels or departing bows,

No time for the formality of manners or even ease.

I saw you stand with horse in hand endlessly polishing

your saddle and weeping for the loss of a way of life,

while waiting for orders to rejoin your regimen.


 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 now,

felt you 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

Farewell


                                         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