All the king’s sweets (a song for overgrown children)

All the king’s sweets (a song for overgrown children)

When you walk out into this night
You will find what you’re looking for
– Or maybe a little bit more.

Gunpowder on a stick
So sweet that it hurts to lick;
A border where lace confronts thigh
Patrolled by a a jealous eye;
A star in the forehead,
A golden sieve,
And all you can see
Is all you believe.

My darling, I took the rather bold step
Of stabbing the dragon
With a pen
In the back.
But nobody comes
And nobody cares,
I’m alone with the beast
I have not taken care.
He’s rather amused, giggling into his gold,
He’s not shy with his smile
Though his fangs smell like rot.

My darling, other heroes will come,
To fuck all the women, to drink all the rum;
I will not be among them, I was silly, it seems,
My bones will be toothpicks,
My memory will dim.
They’ll make armor from dragon scales
And wear it down to the pub
While my scattered molecules
Still demand all the credit.
(I told you, I’m silly,
I told you, it hurts)

You keep trying to reach me
Through other men
When they put their hands
On my exposed neck.
I wish you would fucking stop it,
But honey runs thicker than water.

This is my city, and I won’t share,
I’ll scrape the moonlight off the asphalt
I’ll pack away the flaxen air.
You’re only allowed
To exhale.

I told you, being a wife
I’m as dull as a butter knife,
Dull blades hurt so much more;
The last czar’s daughters would know.

Pearls of moisture
Gleam like satellites
In the spiderwebs
Between the trees at night.

Pearls of moisture
On my skin
Swiped by a burglar
As my years grew thin.

When we were young
We didn’t know
Our lover was night;
Night was the cream on the upper lip
Clotted to butter
From body heat;
Night was the watcher
On the cemetery wall;
Night was the angel
In the hospital hall;
Paint peeling off walls
Like silks off your mistress,
Tell me, who among us
Would dare take it all back?

very long engagement

The sleeping season

I pretty much fall asleep everywhere I go these days. Standing up on the metro, I bury my face in my sleeve, and sleep like one of those horses who can do it without lying down. Sitting down on the metro, I rest my head on The Man’s shoulder, and literally a minute and a half later he has to nudge me awake as we reach our destination. I fall asleep on the bus stop while waiting for Gmail to load on my phone. I fall asleep during the 20-second trip on the elevator. At work, I put my head down next to the keyboard in a joking manner, just to show everyone how tired I am – and then I fall asleep. “Young woman, are you sleeping?” Someone asks me in line at the bakery, and I answer truthfully, “Yes.” I’m not even awake enough to register embarrassment. I catch myself beginning to nod off as I stand on the escalator. Friends prefer booths in restaurants – but I know what’s coming; give me a seat comfortable enough, and my eyes will start closing by themselves before anyone even brings me my soup. “Am I boring you?” A colleague asks me when I start to make myself comfortable against the glass display case in the lunch line, just as he’s getting to the climax of that one funny story this one dude at Interfax told him.

If I sleep, then it follows that I also dream. Dreams on the metro are all work-related. Dreams in restaurants are fuzzy and disordered, November-coloured, blackberry-flavoured. The same evening from my childhood gets recycled – going to see my aunt sing in “The Marriage of Figaro” in Kiev in an autumn not unlike this one, the ground full of puddles and the sky full of clouds and stars, and me full of anticipation. People who have died a long time ago walk with me through these dreams – and we part ways, always, at the same street corner.

I dream that St. Vladimir has swept the stars off one of the domes at the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, and shook them out of his sleeve at a table in front of me, and said, “pick one that looks back at you.”

Other people dream about me. My father visited my cousin at the hospital, and my aunt pulled him aside and said – “I had a dream about Natasha. She was so happy. What’s going on with her?”

What is going on with me? I can’t begin to say.

This isn’t autumn anymore

My new (ridiculously priced) coat is black, and all of the (somewhat) affordable accessories this season have been black – black leather gloves, black wool hat, black platform boots, black patent leather bag. I dress up for the weather, but always try to remember to put on a pair of heart-patterned socks underneath, or maybe a necklace with a silver spoon on it, or underwear with a funny print, or all three options at once. That way, I have an amusing secret to keep from the wind that keeps trying to get underneath my clothes.

I was crossing Novokuznetskaya Street in the evening the other day, right before it got dark. I could see where the cloud cover stretched toward the east, toward my house, and I could see where it ended. The sky beyond was the colour of warm milk, vanilla and forgetting. In the heart hidden away underneath my black coat and white skin, I knew that I could no longer call this season autumn. The chemical reactions happening in the October sky make it impossible to do so. This is a season in-between seasons. It’s pre-winter.

Whenever I go up to my building entrance after dark, I always make a point of looking over my shoulder, even when I am with my boyfriend. On most nights, I don’t see much: cars, trees, and, in these months, a particular star trembling between bare branches.

“I like that star,” I say in the voice of a spoiled socialite. “Buy it for me.”

“What if we move?”

“It’s a quality star – we’ll be able to see it from anywhere in Moscow. Buy it for me.”

“If you behave well.”

We never seem to have any money, but we’re always carrying packages in our hands: bags of spices, bottles of wine, chunks of feta cheese in protective plastic. We talked about bringing home a bag of frozen pelmeni recently.

“We won’t make it home on time,” he said.

But the wind outside argued otherwise.

The first cab we hailed took us across the bridge and to our embankment for a mere 150 roubles. People haggle less in this weather, in the dark. The voices of the DJ’s at night on the car radio are a little sleepier, and you can picture yourself dreaming away in the backseat, awakening far outside of Moscow, in some fairy forest under the snow, where you can hold hands and leave footprints, and talk to no one but each other and, perhaps, a grey wolf – the spit on his wizened muzzle long since turned to crystals of ice.

Reasons not to hate autumn

If you have seasonal depression like me – especially if said depression is being abetted by something else that’s crappy – you need this list. It was put together with help and inspiration from Sarah, who is a true autumn-lover. Autumn, for me, is like some good-looking but terrible man who arrives in town once every nine months and messes with my head for a while before he rides off into the sunset to mess with someone else’s head, probably blaring Leatherbag or Noir Desir on his stereo as he goes.

And here is how I cope with him and his bullshit:

Mulled wine (served at Gogolfest last night, yea-ah)
Wearing boots
Crunching on leaves
The smell of leaves burning
An excuse to stay in with a book when it’s raining
An excuse to sit in a cafe with a book when it’s raining
An excuse to blare “November Rain”
An excuse to give someone a dirty look when they criticize you for blaring “November Rain,” and tell them to fuck right off
Less annoying insects
Less sweat
Meditating upon the transience of all biological life (in an enlightened, Keatsian way)
The sound of leaves scraping against pavement in the wind
Wearing slippers indoors (my new ones feature caveman-esque drawings of reindeer)
Getting into a hot bath after freezing your ass off outside
Any excuse to get warm (haw haw)
Better vodka-drinking weather
Better everything-drinking weather, actually
Wearing stockings
Conspicuous lack of bloated summer blockbusters
Coats. With pockets. For storing MP3 players and other items crucial to one’s psychological well-being (such as gum)
No worrying about how your ass looks in those shorts
Children are back in school and thus have less time and energy to draw dicks on the sidewalk with chalk (or maybe that’s a bad thing?)

I think this is a pretty good list, but if you’ve got stuff to add, please do so.

On the metro. 9 p.m.

My big shoulder-bag, one of the stars of this essay, doesn’t lend itself to traveling with an iPod if I don’t have a coat with pockets on. On the metro, coming back from spray-painted, moonlit Obolon’, I ended up having to stuff it in the waistband of my jeans as I stood by the door, and then un-stuffing it and stuffing it back whenever I wanted to skip a song.

The man in front of me was watching with purely automatic interest each time that I raised the curtain of my pullover and drew it down again. His ears were plugged with headphones, like mine. There were interesting scars on his cheeks, possibly the kind you get when you’re trying to be a badass. Besides us, there were women with plastic bags and blond hair showing its darker roots, also like mine. There was a man in a tracksuit. There was an older woman with an amazing pair of milky breasts flowing out of her ruched shirt, an almost exact replica of which I’d picked up for one of my aunts in London, in Oxford Street, in the best time there is to be in London (which is May), when things still seemed as though they would not change.

And I could see in the eyes of the people riding the metro with me their loves, loves that were alive and loves that were gone, loves that were biting the earlobes of other women in cafes with bad music on the riverfront, loves that were half-sleeping under asters and garbage in dark cemeteries and half-wandering the distant, cannibal curves of Andromeda, and they were all crowded there, in bloodshot eyeballs and dilated pupils, standing on tiptoe, peeking out.

I wanted to turn and look at my own dark reflection in the door, and instead I clung on tightly to the handrail, and imagined that the outline of my body was not present in that horrible doubled-up world on the other side the glass. That I could not, even if I would allow myself, turn around and greet my own eyes, tinged with the dirty dishwater colour of the passageways below this ancient city. That the only person in the mirror was the man with the headphones and the scars. That I wasn’t part of this picture at all.

And I remembered a different metro ride, also at the crackling, smoky start of another autumn. Yura and I were going to an outdoor gym across the river, light backpacks swinging from our shoulders. The round lamps on the train were the colour of marmalade. The train bounded out from the earth, onto the bridge. The city glittered faintly beyond the glass, its lights always making me think of stolen jewelry.  I had been looking forward to going to the States later in the week, but a terrible sadness had been rocked awake inside of me, as I complicated leaving my friend, leaving the city, climbing the thin air above this river, while inside little pockets of warmth on the bridge, Yura and other people I care about would continue to go back and forth, listening to their MP3 players, berating a sneering someone for not giving up his seat to a hugely pregnant woman.

I thought, “how lucky I am to be inside this moment, instead of some other one.”

And last night, with the cool side of my iPod pressing against my stomach, and the cool glance of a strange man there as well, in that place where I’m used to having only warm hands, I thought, “I am lucky to be inside this moment too.” I didn’t sound too convinced to myself in my own head, but then an argument erupted over a sneering someone pushing another sneering someone into someone who was not sneering and only minding their own business thankyouvermuch, and the inhabitants of the train car blinked back their collective memories and turned to watch.