Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka at the Swim-Up Bar
Think of Van Gogh, needled by that ringing in his ear,
of Nijinsky in his straitjacket, of Robert Schumann.
Yes, think of Schumann, whose wedded bliss lasted
only four years before his mind betrayed him.
Not even Clara could save him from madness.
Not even she. If my wife were here, she’d say,
“Honey, don’t forget Dianne Arbus or Plath.”
And what about Virginia Woolf, contemplating
each stone she sewed into her sweater
before she waded into the stream.
Think of them all, I nod to myself,
though there must be other etcetera
to distill into palliatives, every plum
of suffering, every genus of indifference.
Even now, when I listen to my music
I catch myself muttering, “Fool.”
Fool who made the sorrows of all souls count
as nothing even as I squeezed the crystal,
everything vanished into the umlauts of Berlin nights.
Even my scores lightened, rose as cloud.
These days, I no longer need to sleep.
I remember, have always remembered too much.
No matter. The Hermitage, that ridiculous little gusli,
the Bolshoi. Computer problems with the Mir.
Bach’s Brandenburgs as played by six dozen balalaikas.
This is what they want to know about in the Provinces,
I tell Vladimir, the mixer at the swim-up bar,
the Four Seasons in Duesseldorf.
Vladimir looks as though he listens closely, I’ll give him that,
those silver wings tucked tight behind him,
angelic concern spread behind his Cossack moustache,
right finger checking and rechecking
the geography of his saber scar for luck.
There’s one conversation we’ve never had,
and Vlad leans into me, refills my Stoli on the house,
adds some ice—Say I loved Ludmila,
say how Ruslan comes to me speaking
one night with a voice made of cellos,
then next night keening like massed bassoons.
Say I even craved those nightly visitations—
that they awoke in me my Spanish dreams,
hummed a Jota Aragonesa, my Memory
of a Summer Night in Madrid,
though I’ve never been.
Oh, Vlad, you should have heard my dreams.
Like an eight-armed goddess retelling
the lives of czars while peeling oranges
and humming Prince Igor as I bowed.
By Jeffrey Levine from "Mortal, Everlasting" (2000)