THE REVOLUTION OF MARINA M.
New Year’s 1932, Carmel-by-the-Sea
ROCKING ON THE RAZOR-MUSSELED bay, lulled by the sleepy toll of buoy bells, the music of rigging, the eloquent stanzas of the waves, I wait for news from the sea. No boys and girls play on the deserted beach now, only a few stoic fishermen huddle on upturned buckets. The slow labor of the poet building himself a stone house at the cove’s south end makes for mild entertainment. If I knew him better I’d tell him the danger of trusting to solid things. It’s an illusion. All one needs is a rented cabin, a decent stove, a small boat, a garden gone to seed for winter. I watch the lanky form of my landlord’s son crossing the shingle, coat collar up, stopping by to collect rents. I have the money in a cigar box back in my cabin, most of it anyway. It’s only five dollars, the shack’s not built for winter. I don’t complain, there are shutters to block out a storm, and an iron stove with a solid pipe. In a few minutes, I will beach my boat on the pebbly shore and give him his due—we’ll share a bottle of homebrew, or perhaps he comes with a flask. No liquor on the premises just now—though it will come soon, down from San Francisco. Those who love poetry, even my unreadable foreign brand, are a tender breed.
My dilemma. My English is good enough for the little stories I publish in pulp magazines, but for poetry one needs one’s native tongue. The voice of the soul is not so easily translated. Though to say “soul” here is already wrong. We say
A tug on the line. I pull in a shining perch, shockingly alive. I add it to a rockfish in my pail and row back to shore. I have a motor but spare the gas when I can. At times like this I surprise myself, how I’ve managed to create something of a life on this foggy shore out of the broken pieces of myself, scavenged from the sea like flotsam. Or is it jetsam… it irks me not to know the difference. I will have to consult my oracle, the giant moldy
After the landlord’s lanky son leaves—
I can hear her half a mile off, Elizabeth in her clattering jalopy. I’ve made cornbread in my iron pot, a
After dinner, she showers me with gifts, H.D.’s
“Do you know it?” she asks, eager to have surprised me.
I shake my head, remembering the last time I saw him, in Petrograd at the House of Arts, a robust and charismatic man, full of swagger.
I get very drunk that night in the little cabin and recite aloud everything I know penned by Vladimir Vladimirovich. I sing it as he did, that thrilling bass voice, booming like the waves, so Elizabeth can hear the music. When I run out of his poems, I move on to Khlebnikov, Chernikov, Kuriakin. My pretty friend cannot believe how many lines I know by heart, but this is nothing. There’s no end to the flow once the gate is opened. Here they teach children to think, but they don’t train the memory. I suppose they cannot imagine what a person might be called upon to endure, when a line of poetry can mean the difference between strength and despair. I drip candle wax into my glass, watch the drops swirl and adhere. “What are you doing?” she asks.
“It’s something we used to do, to tell our fortunes.” I recite for her:
On St. Basil’s Eve, cast the wax in water.
At midnight cast the wax.
Sing the songs the girls have sung
Since ancient times.
Prepare, my dear,
If you dare, my dear,
To see your future.
The Pouring of the Wax
(January 1916–February 1917)
MIDNIGHT, NEW YEAR’S EVE, three young witches gathered in the city that was once St. Petersburg. Though that silver sound,
That night, the cusp of the New Year, 1916, we three prepared to conjure the future in the nursery of a grand flat on Furshtatskaya Street. From down the hall, the sounds of a large New Year’s Eve soiree filtered under the door—scraps of music, women’s high laughter, the scent of roasted goose and Christmas pine. Behind us, my younger brother, Seryozha, sketched in the window seat as we girls prepared the basin and the candle.
Below in the street, harness bells announced sleighs busying themselves transporting guests to parties all along the snow-filled parkway. But in the warm room before the tiled stove, we breathlessly circled the basin we’ ...