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


  1. Fabulous read...this vehicle of change...lovely :)

  2. Thanks I've been carrying these collective memories of Russian people inside me and my grandmothers, family . half of poem based on dream I was young woman but of grandmother's generation? Antonia

  3. So evocative, I was there too. My golden hair in braids round my head.

  4. So evocative, I was there too. My golden hair in braids round my head.

  5. So evocative, I was there too. My golden hair in braids round my head.

  6. This poem read as if you butterflied nesting dolls
    who knew what words went
    with what scent and kept them
    safe until the appropriate
    holiday did arise ...

  7. Mostly based on family oral history. @nd half I was my grandmother's generation . Amusingly the young officer was my daughter's violin teacher in life who detests me and I equally. Donot delete !