mark s kuhar


Petersburg 1916

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 fancy.

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 the czar.

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.