Thank God for the side streets
Exhaling fog this time of year
Letting me step off the boulevard
And giving me a place to drown
My memories of Adelina.

This landscape is like a video game
I interact with it
Pull mysteries from it
Like silver fish from the blue sea.
Beneath each tile, each rail, each snail
I suspect there is a chance
To trigger dialogue
That would lead me back.

Better the white
Better a blank
Hopeless and upright
All edges gone
Nothing to snag.

It was Adelina’s husband
Who turned out to be
The snake in the garden.
Husbands are awfully keen on me.

He was walking along the shore
Back from a war
A crushed hummingbird in his jacket pocket
On his chest a tarnished locket
Of Adelina’s soft red hair.
“Sweetheart, you better beware,”
He said in a voice as thick as winter jam,
As heavy as glaze ice on a wing.

“Ever want something other
Than a silver spoon in your mouth?”
He said. “You’ll be gone before the month is out.”
“I will not be your man, nor will I be your love.
Honey, you’re just butter to a knife.
Honey, you’re honey, and you stick to my fangs.
If I don’t hold you down, you are everywhere.”

I was on vacation,
I was daring and fierce
I was full of an angry joy
There was salt in my braid from the waves
That teased and bit the shore.
I said, “You’ve been gone a long time.
Do you think there are places on you not good enough for my tongue?
Do you think the back of my throat and you can’t be good friends?”

“Keep asking, keep asking those questions,” Adelina’s husband said.

So it went.
The barmen in the stone halls winked at me
I got in everywhere like smoke and read poems for free
I didn’t let love and her twin sister, pain,
Sit down at my table.
I was exceedingly well-paid
In trinkets and honey and beds.
The thin skin of rabbits hugged my fingers
Until the day I ran into Adelina
With her outstretched hand –
So fine that I took off my gloves
And almost by accident
Felt the pulse of her pale wrist.
“He says you’re a poet –
I came to see for myself.”
The smoothness of her face
Was mathematically impossible.
Free of the locket her hair
Burned like a sunset-dipped halo.
I wanted to say that I wasn’t a poet
Not until this very moment.

We met in bars and talked for hours
Talked until the stars dissolved
Until the weathercock gave us the side-eye and crowed.

Adelina loved books and freedom,
Stitching saints’ medals into collars
Drawing fate on espresso foam
Wearing a chain with bells on a thin ankle
Splashing her cheeks with champagne at dawn.

She took me riding in the forest
It was so quiet we heard bluebells ring.
We lay on the tombs of old kings
High above sea level
And told stories
And imagined the marrow of the old bones beneath us
Leaking, weeping with desire.
Wasn’t it good to be alive?

Adelina’s kisses plump and rich
Breasts to fill a good brandy glass
She tasted like syrup squeezed from moss
And laughed at my metaphors.
She twisted my braid around her neck
Said I was killing her.
Like a shadow I’d crouch at her feet
When it was time for her to go.

“Promise me, promise
That you will be good and famous.
It will be my reward
In this life of wearing yellowed lace.
I didn’t marry well
Though you might disagree
With that last bit.”

One day, Adelina’s husband came
Boots thudding, joints groaning in the evening cold.
He invited me to speak as adults.
He pressed bluebells into my palm
Shredded and melted from his body heat
These sorry gifts
He said Adelina made her choice
He said her curiosity was satisfied
Never come between a man and his wife
Be generous to beggars, pray at night.

I threw the petals into my drink
I got so drunk, but I could still think.
Only one remedy for that
I let him lead me by the hand
To the cellar.
He spat on his fingers and promised to be gentle.
Still I cried, my “no, no” very slowly giving ground
To my “yes, yes.”
He said I had an ass for tearing
Flesh for weighing, too expensive,
Like a stack of veils at a silk merchant’s.
I slapped him for it
But my hand trembled.

I pressed the trace of his mouth on my collarbone
Like a button buried beneath my skin.
Then ran to stand in the light of her windows
Just to stand in those pale, flat rectangles
Imagining they were a magic circle.
Adelina leaned out of the window once
Shook her head, made the sign of the cross
Shrugged. Her hair was like rays of a departing sun.
She turned away and soundlessly closed the shutters.
In my mind’s eye I saw her take down a book
And cross her legs by the fire.
I saw the way pleasure at beauty curved
The corners of her mouth upward.
I vowed that my words would find her.
I vowed to one day be in there with her
Invited in from the cold.

I took the speediest train going north
Tearing through the countryside too fast
To let my eyes focus. It was a mercy.
Still I felt the dead kings rise
To wave a bone-creaking goodbye.
I came under the stone arch of my home
My children rushed out, hugging my skirt
They said it had been too long.
I handed out rose wafers, seashells,
Salt crystals like crowns,
A song I took from the pulsing throat of a nightingale,
Drops of frozen dragon blood set in gold,
Blinking doll eyes, ticking clock hearts,
A rainbow soft as sorbet.
I bought my way out of their recriminations
Flossed their teeth with silver spiderwebs
And put them to bed.

I walked into our garden
My husband was grilling raw meat
Sprinkling lemon juice and cursing his hangnails.
He fed me with his own rough fingers
Traced the insides of my mouth
Undid my blouse
Listened to the irregularities of my heart
Asked me about the south.
I said, “Why does this heart stumble and burn?
Why do I feel as though
It was me you laid down on these coals?
When does it stop?”

“Never,” he said, and smiled into his beard.
“You’re an artist now. You belong to it.”

banya serebryakova
Banya by Zinaida Serebryakova. 1926

16 thoughts on “Adelina

  1. 1. What happened to decent poetry? When I was in school, we read Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. Now writers are competing to out-shock the public. This “poem” isn’t something I would want my teenage daughter to read.

    2. You are, by far, the weakest contributor to Moscow Times and Comment Is Free and perhaps you think that by “branching out” into literary style writing you will somehow burnish your credentials. You could not be more mistaken. Your style is offensive, your metaphors are jumbled, your rhymes, if they even occur, are strange.

    3. You have a weird and annoying style of putting paintings next to your poetry. Is this done to make the poetry seem better? If so, it doesn’t work.

    4. Is this “poem” is an attempt at being “feminist”? If yes, you have failed.

  2. @ Natalia Antonova

    When will you post further excerpts of your novel-in-progress titled “Darkness on the Edge of Moscow” last posted in February 2014? It deals with similar themes and has an ongoing plot, Fascinating novel.

  3. Gosh, I wonder if you are consciously aware of the meaninglessness of it all. That no matter what you do – put your boobs on the internet, string meaningless sentences together and say it’s “Poetry,” placate the simple-minded Guardian/OpenDemocracy readership with fairy tales of the Russian “hybried” regime – some people will always see you for what you are, a sad, vapid little girl crushed under the weight of her own vapidity, her soul sold long ago (doesn’t even matter to who). Does it hurt, Natalia? Do you manage to sleep at night? Ever think about quitting..? It really fascinates me. #KremlinWhore

  4. @ Aaron T. Hewitt and XX

    I want to add one more comment. When men write controversially about sex, no one feels threatened by it. When Aristophanes, Catullus, Ovid, Petronius and a host of medieval Latin writers wrote non-mainstream poems/plays/narratives about sex, no one called them out for it and their writings have survived in the academic canon. But when women write controversially about sex, audiences feel threatened by that and react with hostility. In the Christian Old Testament, the book called by Protestants the Song of Solomon (by Catholics the Song of Songs) is at least partly narrated by a woman, and it’s pretty strong stuff. St. Augustine tried to whitewash its strong sexual language by calling it an allegory about the spiritual search for God. But historically in the West, when women write candidly about sexual experience, audiences become hysterical. Western audiences, since classical antiquity, have felt threatened by women’s sexual self-assertion. In the Old Testament, Potiphar’s Wife who tried to seduce Joseph is an example of an Evil Woman, but King David’s adultery was forgiven (after penance). And so it has gone on since antiquity. So far as I know, no one explained why men are forgiven but women face hostility for straying outside the mainstream.

  5. Natalia, I love your writing! It so evocative and so .. I don’t know the adjective, so I’ll say like a quicksand (I mean it as a compliment). I have one question ( a stupid but sincere question, not trolling): Why do you write in a poem structure when nothing rhymes? Why just not text? I sincerely find your writing poetic, however I never understood the free verse choice vs. prose, so I finally get to ask an actual poet who writes that way:) Another question: Do you try to rhyme when you write or it’s not a concern? I mean when you form your sentences, is rhyming to you secondary to conveying the meaning/feeling yo want, or is it not even that (no attempt at rhyming at all, not even a secondary concern). Thanks!

  6. Hi Lila!

    Sorry I didn’t get back to you right away. I can honestly only speak for myself, but I think poetry is usually musical in some way – there is that extra layer of complexity to it. Or else it’s like an incantation. Like a spell. So it doesn’t *always* have to rhyme, no, but it still comes from a different place than prose. And poetry has that economical quality to it, you must make every line count in some way (and there are multiple ways to make it count). I like to fool around with rhymes – I like having them come and go. When I write poetry I’m always just playing, I don’t think it’s nearly as good as my prose, I don’t think I could ever be a Great Poet or anything, but knowing that is also very freeing. I experiment with it in the same way I’ve experimented with freestyle rapping. All of the poetry I’ve published here is meant to be set to music – and some of it has already. And when you’re thinking of it as poetry + music, rhyming is a concern, but it’s a concern that comes and goes.

    I hope that makes sense.

  7. Thank you so much, you explained it perfectly and I finally get it. Also, your remark about how poetry has an economical quality is so very true. So many times I read poems where certain lines seemed to have been added just to satisfy the rhyme, you wouldn’t think so but it ruins the whole thing sometimes, it suddenly goes from sincere to forced and disingenuous. So thanks, I’m happy I’m quitting my judgmental view of free prose.

    Also, ahem, FREESTYLE RAPPING?:D I think I found my muse in you:D

  8. Please. So now I’m a “sexist dick” merely for pointing out that the oh-so-bohemian Natalia Antonova has no talent? I’m supposed to pretend she’s talented because she’s a woman? Maybe I shouldn’t call her a sell-out media slut either even though this is precisely what she is? Just look at who she associates w/ on Twitter. Track it. It’s not hard. Scumbag Luhn. Presstitute Walker. The deranged ‘human’ being known as Andrew Roth? Fucktard Christopher Miller? Corrupt “corruption expert” O. Bullough? These people are part of a posse of lying scumbags, most likely Kremlin-paid (or perhaps it is a bigger game, entire possible based on modern media rules, and in fact it’s all Chinese money). The MILF of the hack pack doesn’t get a pass because she’s a woman and a delicate flower. Face it. She can’t write. She is ideologically bankrupt.

  9. Some of us have been studying the insipid “hack pack” for some time now, and have made our conclusions. It’s a well-trained disinformation network. Apply the same logic as used in the Usual Suspects. Pundits: The oh-so-subtle Prof Mark Galeotti, crying crocodile tears for Russia’s May 9th celebrations in Moscow Times, a compromised rag. I’ve mentioned provocateur Oliver Bullough already. Psycho Ben Judah (recall his infamous Russia trip for evidence). Things aren’t better among reporters. I’ve mentioned why Walker, Luhn, Miller, Roth are deliberately engaging in disinformation. Natalia Vasilyeva (isn’t it convenient how you have these good looking girls with Russian names and shady agendas?) is on my watchlist. Stick the little girls, Anna Arutunyan, Harriet Salem, on there as well. The lying bastard Oliver Carroll. Insipid Kremlin gigolo Mark McKinnon who takes every opportunity to lie about this conflict. Crazy creep Roland Oliphant – his ENTIRE job in this conflict is making Russia bigger and badder than it seems (hm, wonder why?). Sleazy Kevin Rothrock, well-schooled in subterfuge. I could go on but hope my point is clear. ALL of these people have this in common: they pretend to be unbiased and without self-interest. The propagandists who are out in the open at least don’t hide their agendas, the people listed here are much more insidious. Miss Antonova, with her latest distorted, suspiciously subtle article on press freedom for “Al Jazeera” that made me want to puke, is only doing what they all do. It’s not “sexism” to point out that she is part of this network and does not deserve her readers’ trust.

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