Eten Rafokovsky is a Cleveland native. His grandparents emigrated
from Russia in 1917, and much of his writing focuses on on turn-of-the-century
Russian literary society.
We sit in the dom muruzi of Gippius and Merezhkovski and everyone
talks until dawn. I remain quiet and listen, being the new one.
Cigarette smoke and the inky black of a burning candle wick fog
the dim air as we drink red wine from goblets. They speak of
the flesh, the holy Orthodox church, the latest journals, the
failure of leadership. The next night, at the Quisisana, I eat
cabbage soup and yershi. Afterwards, in the dark, we wander along
Nevski Prospekt, drunk on art and the written word. We pass the
dvorniks guarding the entrance to a pink palace, and stumble
laughing into the white night.
In the morning I am at Nicholas Station waiting for a train.
I pull my greatcoat up against my neck, and follow the swath
of my breath as it vanishes up toward the terminal roof. I think
of Teffi. I read her latest work in the Satyricon. I am
delighted and want to be next to her. But she holds court at
the Dominique, and I am not sure I could go in there. Besides,
my billards game is bad.
I saw her at V.I., Klotchkov in the German book section. I wanted
to talk to her -- to ask her opinions of my poems. But I talk
a braver game than I play.
The train for Moscow arrives. I pay my kopecks and climb on.
I am to deliver a manuscript to Eremovich for Bely. He is waiting
for me in a cafe in the Arbat. The manuscript is wrapped in brown
paper and string. As the train huffs to a start, I begin to compose
in my head:
Trapped and strangled,
in the sarcophagus of the river,
the Czar's hound on my heels . . .
They hate our poems, and I want to be among those whose poems
are hated. Three of my compositions are to appear in Vozrozhdenie
soon. To what review, I do not know.
The train clatters along. An old woman sits across from me. She
wears a fur, with a matching bag. She eyes me suspiciously --
the old coat, the unkempt beard, the tiny reading glasses. She
sees I am not wearing a uniform. She thinks me a terrorist, I
In the Arbat, I find Eremovich at a cafe drinking beer and scribbling
on paper. He takes the parcel, thanks me, and then I no longer
exist. Ermeovich thinks there will be democracy, and an end to
On the train back to Petersburg I think about my poems. They
are too mundane. I need to speak up. I need to attack, like Mayakovsky
screaming "Cloud in Trousers" on the street corner
wearing a top hat and tails, with a wooden spoon for a boutonniere.
Back in Petersburg I walk by Kazan Cathedral, and up Nevski.
I will go to the University later, but for now, I just wander.
I think about a bearded woman I saw at Ciniselli Circus. That,
to me, is the story of the world.