Chicago, Houston, Singapore.
Our doleful players would implore
“Queen of Heaven, Fairest
Tzarina, wax our ears! The call
of shiny cars and shopping malls
and billboard-blazoned beer unbinds
our will – just as that Argonaut did
fail to keep a focused mind
and nearly drowned in siren seas;
or bound Ulysses (cargo knotted)
condemned himself to ecstasies
and wept and begged to be unbound.
Sweet-tuned temptations all around,
each sung in notes we can’t decline
– those paper notes with dollar signs.
O Majesty of Muses – our earnings
are sweet. The dollar seduces. And yet
it also cheats. The Soviets
just steal our prize on our returning.
And here, Madam, on freedom’s soil,
the banks from Lenin’s face recoil –
what can we do? How can we use
this cash we stow in growing stashes?
To stuff more pillows? Or – excuse
the language, Lady — blow our noses,
spread cologne across our asses?
How strange a fate this world composes!”
But to our bandit queen, our troupe
stayed true; a loyal, close-knit group.
We loved but never groped the Free-land.
Then one day — ’
‘ — you met New Zealand.’
These last words were mine. How many days
had passed since I’d employed my tongue
(not counting mumbled curses flung
across the island — Sayeed-ways)
to mingle with my co-survivor?
Perhaps four weeks. Or maybe five, or
maybe several months — or more.
So comatose was I to him,
so like a wooden dummy for
his fancies to ventriloquize,
he did not think to pause and trim
his story’s sail when I (surprise!)
He said, ‘Well no,
Not yet. Another year or so
would pass. A massive fox-fur muff
and hat, where mother liked to stuff
her secret store of cash, were worth
a fortune now; and on a flight
to Spain one moon-palpating night,
these great white furs of puffed-up girth
became two ATM machines.
Withdrawals were made, and – split between
the pilots – handsome bribes were paid,
and never have two finer actors
more convincingly portrayed
despairing, helpless, hijacked men.
The players cheered my mother, backed her
mission to defect. But when
we flew to Rome, then Ashkabat,
and mother told them of her plot
to conquer all Turkmenistan,
they begged us for a change of plan.
So I was forced to slap a few
(the flutist and a back-up singer)
and break our tabla player’s fingers
and even stab a stewardess to
convince the others to comply.
But it is late, quite late, and I
must start my prayers. Tomorrow I’ll
return to Ashkabat – the year
that saw my mother put on trial;
how we escaped to Bucharest,
Ukraine, Japan, and finally here.
Or rather, there.” He pointed West.
“That country I’ve forsaken — though
she couldn’t have been more kind, you know.’
He gave his hairy lip a stroke
and took ten steps, then turned:
‘You spoke, Arcady!’ He rushed to me,
so close, his moustache brushed my cheek.
He spat into my ear: ‘You speak!
You hear! You heard, unconsciously,
the story of my puzzling past.
Each woeful word. And now, at last,
we can converse.’
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘I said at last we can – ‘
More Tuesday Poems at Tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.