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*Permission to publish poems from the book, Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds was granted by Sarabande Books
Rm 200, 2234 Dundee Rd.
Louisville KY 40205

*Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds

This is what she says about Russia, in the year 2000, in
a restaurant on Prince Street, late on a summer night.
She says: All the chandeliers were broken, and in the winter,
you couldn't get a drink, not even that piss from Finland.
The whole country was going crazy
. She thinks she is speaking
about the days before she left, but I think, actually, that she is
recounting history. Somebody should be writing all this down

Or not. Perhaps the transition from Communism to a post-Soviet
federation as seen through the eyes of a woman who was hoping,
at least, for an influx of French cosmetics is of interest only to me.
And why not? It seems that the fall of a great empire—revolution!
murder! famine! martial music!—has had a personal effect.
Picture an old movie: here is the spinning globe, the dotted line
moving, dash by dash, from Moscow across the ocean to
New York, and it's headed straight for me. Another blonde
with an accent: the city's full of them. Nostrovya! A toast
to how often I don't know what's coming at me next.

So here is a list of what she left behind: a husband, an abortion,
a mathematical education and a black market career in
trading currencies. And what she brought: a gray poodle,
eight dresses, and a fearful combination of hope, sarcasm,
and steel-eyed desire to which I have surrendered. And now
I know her secrets: She will never give up smoking.
She would have crawled across Eastern Europe and fed
that dog her own blood if she had to. And her mother's secrets:
She would have thought, at last, that you were safe with me.
She hated men. Let me, then, acknowledge that last generation
of the women of the enemy: They are a mystery to me.
They would be a mystery even to my most liberal-minded friends

That's not to say that the daughter, this new democrat, can't be
a handful. And sometimes noisy: One of those girls you see
now (ice-blue manicure, real diamonds, and lots of DKNY)
leans over from the next table and says, Can't you ask your wife
to hold it down?
My wife? I suppose I should be insulted,
but I think it's funny. This is a dangerous woman they want
to quiet here. A woman who could sew gold into the ragged lining
of anybody's coffin. Who knows that money does buy freedom.
Who just this morning has obtained a cell phone with a bonus plan.
She has it with her, and I believe she means to use it.
Soon, she will be calling everyone, just to wake them up

*Jews in Nashville

Suprisingly, we were simpatico. We understood the
modest skyline and the bus routes that took the worker
to their modest jobs. We loved the catfish sandwiches!
And the bitter countryside reminded us of the years
when there was no harvest and the people mourned.
We know any number of stories that are flattering to
all denominations, and we traded these for visits to
private homes, where we were not mocked. Instead,

we were invited to walk the road out to the orchards
and the graveyards. We were given access to family
photos and took copious notes. We walked respectfully
along the banks of the river that had agreed to lend both
commerce and recreation to the city and then we shared
the secrets of a people who are largely misunderstood:
Like you, they told us, we revere the ones who God has
driven crazy. And when He breaks our hearts, we keep the
secret to ourselves. We eat our bread and save our money
for the upkeep of our wives and children, who adore us.
Sometimes, for no reason, we stomp around with joy.

This is to say, when we were younger, we thought that
travel would enlighten us. That cities were connected by
the music on the radio. We thought that Jews were
welcome everywhere and that anyone who had a
history was ready to put down their guns and dance.

*Someone Like You

Steam-heated rooms, winter, and your thin arms
waving away everyone you were accused of loving.
That's how I remember you: blonde as the girls
of tomorrow and mean to everyone. In and out
of the shops on Cornelia Street to buy your cake
and cigarettes, in and out of the boy's bars,
other women's lives—the days went on and on
like that. The years. There was light in the
background but it was dim and dangerous, like
a far-off fire in an oilfield. Like the aftermath of war.

It should have been a disaster, the kind of life
that I led then. The life in which I wanted
someone like you. Instead, when we met again
one night in the no-name town where we grew up,
no one seemed surprised. You said, So, sister,
I hear you got a job. You're making money.
Why don't you tell your mother that you won't be home?

Two hours later, in a hotel on the Jersey Turnpike,
I said that you could bite and you could scream
and you could tell me everything that anyone
had ever done to you and I wouldn't falter,
I wouldn't feel a thing, since I had wised up
to the fact that some women want to see
how much it really takes to kill them;
some women know the answer in advance.

So in the morning, we woke up without our
girl disguises and left it all behind us: the crimes
that we committed, the sex we thought was
owed us, the razors and the garnets that we wore
when were those creatures, that generation,
the kind of lovers who crave the taste of blood.

*The Anthropic Principle

Two red drinks—pure alchohol, with a maraschino cherry—in
the bar next door, deep in the afternoon. While I hide in my
cool corner, admiring the sawdust and the sides of beef, work
is taking place all over the world: diamonds are being quarried,
slaves are sewing dresses, policemen are loading their rifles,
aiming their guns. As for the rest of us (when we're not
drinking), diligently, we apply ourselves to solving the
problems of the multitudes; diligently, we communicate

our ideas. And here is more to chew on: seventeen rich
grandchildren are coming for lunch tomorrow. Russia awaits,
Africa, the prevention of nuclear war. If I were free, I would
suggest that this is how we do it: more sports, more food.
Certainly, more television. Ducks in funny costumes, wielding
hammers, quacking out a song. That's how we conquered
Communisim: the ducks alone brought down the Berlin wall.

So three drinks later, back in the office, I blast fax out my
manifesto, which is simple: we should all relax. Apparently,
no matter what we do, we already do our part; we balance
the cosmological constant just by getting up in the morning
and smacking around our wives. Isn't that amazing! And
here's how it works: according to the anthropic principle
there could be an infinity of universes: starry bubbles, burning
balls, solid boxes of hard time. You name it and they made it:
Some are gelatinous. Some are inside out. But there is one
commonality: none are peopled. None have us. Only the
composition of our universe allows for our existence—in fact,
our presence is required or the whole thing falls apart. So

here's what I think: what if we all held our breath and stood
sideways in a corner so we couldn't be found? Our universe
would go wailing through the empty corridors of physics, knocking
over furniture and pictures, searching for its vanished friends.
Afterward, when we said Gotcha! and the universe wept with
relief, we could all sit down for a nice cup of something comfy,
have a heart-to-heart, and someone, somewhere, might wise up.

That Eons Pass and I Still Remember

Help me. I am haunted by the idea
that if I walk down a certain street
on a day that I can hardly describe,
then I will find you. Not the person
that you were: I accept that she

is long gone, that girl who was born
to be happy, who had a lemon tree in
her yard, who stepped out the door
into tomorrow and was never seen again

Why all this breaks down remains
unknown, but it does, it does,
while the cities go one building
themselves, while nature dreams

Perhaps we change our lives over
and over again, but little else gets done
What is the proof? That eons pass,
and I still wake up remembering

So I suppose I owe you the effort
it will take me to describe that day:
The sun is screaming. It rocks the sky
People drive by in invisible cars
because nothing is ever what
it seems. I am smarter than I was
before, but still deeply afraid

which is as close as I can get
to giving an honest accounting
of myself. And there is more:
if I were to find you now,
I don’t know if I could even
bear to hear what you might say

We Are Lucky

Do you remember what we looked like
walking down the road to this house
with our basket of books and our pets,
trailing the glitter of our age?
You were the long-haired blonde
who knew how to light candles
I had promise. I had an antic profile
and a checkered past. We didn’t even
have to arrive in order to open the door

Now there is a kind of summer
in every room. I can move the air,
which feels like linen on the skin,
and morning, noon and night
there are fireflies in the trees
outside. You think these are scenes
from my childhood, but I believe that
we are living in the here and now

Which is not so bad. Look, even
our own god says he is feeling
his age. Sometimes, all he wants is
ice cream and a baseball game
Sometimes he wants to rethink
the constellations. Sometimes he
gets angry and he doesn’t know why

But he’s still a friend. I don’t believe
that he listens to those grim idols
wrapped up in vines who are out
for blood. Let them smoke their
cigarettes: he wants to dance
Remember? When we started
down this road he promised
we would be lucky. And we are:
nothing is going to happen today

How We Become the People That We Are

My teacher was born in Montreal
He was a cold man with French eyes
Everyone has praised him,
          but not like this

To begin: the way he taught me was
through dreams, so that I experienced language
as something that arises from an internal
wellspring. What it means, you make it mean,
          and that is all you owe

In that way: two empty rooms are
telling stories to each other; human nature
can be known, even forgiven; and friends
          cleave to friends
What is beautiful speaks. Atrocity is
also content, with its jeweled robes
          and its jackals
In time, the heart, the wind, the neighbors
          all live and die

And again: here is my teacher, who I met
once, in those days, those days, those days
(when art infused the world and every night
          was a reverie)
I was embarrassed and distant; he was
          a stranger on tour
Quietly, he stepped in and out of the world
while Canadian women played the guitar for him
Every day, the province of Alberta mailed him
          a wandering cloud

Who knows this: what we will remember
later in life, when we wonder how we became
          the people that we are?
I remember that in New York, all he wanted
was to see a movie, and I hope that I
recommended something that he liked
Now he sends his messages from the top of
a mountain: they are all in French and I
          can’t read a word
But still, I know. I know

The Deviant

The next time I am hired
to do a job, I believe
that I will discuss
the paranormal, or
give a demonstration
of how to make candy
Not that I know anything
about these subjects,
but if you know me,
you know that has never
stopped me before

What I will not do
is push my own life
onto the stage anymore
and listen while it tries
to account for its sex,
its quality, the ballet shoes
it used to feature, the
mistaken beliefs it
clung to year after year

I could come up with
reasons: I could say,
Because it’s time to leave
the poor thing alone
or, Oh, just let it
enjoy itself while
its health holds out

but if you know me
you would know that
I am lying: it seems that
at my house, what was
expected to decline
instead, is growing
stronger and the worm
that should have turned
is busy chewing its way
out the front door

And oh yes, the mind:
that machine
infuriated by mortality
That old deviant,
which has finally
decided to wake up
It thinks and thinks
and what it thinks
is beginning to seem
believable: that the
shoes were okay,
but everything else
was just ammunition

Now it thinks
it will celebrate by
spitting bullets
It thinks it will
violate infinity
It thinks what it wants
And if you know
what it wants, then
you know that it
already has a plan

Small Talk

It is a mild day in the suburbs
Windy, a little gray. If there is
sunlight, it enters through the
kitchen window and spreads
itself, thin as a napkin, beside
the coffee cup, pie on a plate

What am I describing?
I am describing a dream
in which nobody has died

These are our mothers:
your mother and mine
It is an empty day; everyone
else is gone. Our mothers
are sitting in red chairs
that look like metal hearts
and they are smoking
Your mother is wearing
sandals and a skirt. My
mother is thinking about
ignoring the laundry

Later, there will be
no reason to remember
this, so remember it
now: a safe day. Time
passes into dim history

And we are their babies
sleeping in the folds of
the wind. Whatever our
chances, these are the
women. Such small talk
before life begins

Copyright © 2007 Eleanor Lerman & Sarabande Books