directly to mother, and whispered: “Quick,
let’s feed this Ass some arsenic!
Or hemlock, cyanide, or some
drugged drink of yours that pumps with pain
each neuron first, then bursts the brain.”
Remarkably, my poor old mum
didn’t share my choice of entertainment.
Her rare decision to abstain meant
she’d made a different, better plan.
It’s true, the bombings scared her badly.
She didn’t sleep well. Turkmenistan
appeared in dreams. She saw the madly
vengeful eyes of blue-faced Nur
whose speechless spectre stayed with her
throughout the day. She longed to go
somewhere, but where, she did not know.
“Here, give him this,” she said, and spooned
a sticky substance in a glass.
Of garlic schnapps and mustard gas
the liquid smelled. I nearly swooned
while serving it; but Asarov,
so smitten, proud, polite and suave,
imbibed the potion fast, afraid
to cause offence to his new love.
The following day, my mother made
it again. And six weeks later, above
a bustling Yushunskaya Street
in icy moody Moscow, she’d treat
him with some more – and call him “syn”
(in Russian, “son”) when serving that gin.
Or shall we call it herogin?
For I soon learned what key ingredient
had made our soldier so obedient
to us – and haggard, pale and thin.
When mother first revealed to me
the outlines of her strategy,
I couldn’t believe it. Frantically
I asked: “What madcap scheme is this?
To let that dumb romantic be
my Noorya’s spouse? To let him kiss
her toes each night, caress her hair?”
I cannot bear the thought!”
she soothed. “Don’t look so mortified.
The moment Noorya is his bride
you’ll thank your mother.”
Here, she laughed:
“That daily drink he quaffs is meant
to make the poor man impotent,
yet gorge his lust for one more draft.
Enslaved, he’ll do what I insist.
and if that Noorya’s ever kissed,
then your lips, son, will have the honour.”
My mother was right. And not right, too.
New fears began to weigh upon her.
The wedding happened fast. It’s true
the Ass became what’s called a “junkie;”
and true, for every gin-glass drunk he
desired my Noorya even less;
and true that he would acquiesce
to mother’s sneers of cold command.
But though he promptly did obey her,
and steered his bride – and minstrel players —
to Moscow, little went as planned.
With famished eyes and spirits sagging,
he shivered on a mattress, begging
my mother to serve him one more sip,
one more – for “you’d be nowhere, right,
without my Russian citizenship?
I’ve done all that you’ve asked! Tonight
your troupe is booked at the Grand Hall.
The bribes I gave! These rooms are small
for your large group…yet” — meekly said —
“in marrying one, I’ve many wed…”
Now sixteen floors above the glare
and gloom of Moscow’s puddled streets,
eighteen of us slept with thirteen sheets,
and seven beds across a pair
of rooms – or more like cubbyholes.
That bleak Hotel Sevastopol
housed refugees of Turkic stock:
from Kyrgystanis to Tajiks,
Uzbekis, Turkmen and Kazakhs.
And Afghans, too, which we, like freaks
of ethnic nature now were classed.
What irony! We’d fled our past,
we’d dodged our demons – yet here we found
ourselves now lodged with Turks all round!’
More Tuesday Poems at Tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.