POST-SOVIET SESTINA (OCTOBER 1996)
The light wakes me, the alarm did not. Bad sign,
it's six and I've got an eight o'clock flight.
Outside, Sashas stuttering that my phone line
was dead, the traffic's bad, his Volga cab
sputters from the cold. My suitcases form
a perfect wall around me, Cold War border
in the vinyl backseat. Sasha borders
on the politely apoplectic. Signs
read Moscow City Limits. Billboards form
a history of the momentthe flight
from a crowded train to Mercedes cab,
communal apartment to credit line.
Disaster: my fate is not in the line
on my palm, or in the stars. It borders
the roada single nail. Now Sasha's cab
and my plans read just like the blind man's signs
at the mouth of the Metro: .
from Moscow leaves without me. It's poor
to overstay your welcome, when the forms
say by such and such date on the dotted line
you must leave this world. But that first flight's
the last today over the Russian border.
So I take a bus back, pass again the sign
City Limits, not enough cash for a cab.
I borrow a hundred from a friend, take a cab
back to the dark apartment, and inform
my love at home by phone that it's a sign
I must've left something behind. The phone line
hisses between us. I'm on the border
of a mind like two countries. Thoughtflight
at midnight. I wake. And won't miss this flight,
already past the Limits in Dimas cab.
I reach visa control. But the border-
guard says I must buy a new visa form
upstairs. Enough time for the ticket line
to close. Okay, I'm desperate now, so I sign
my life away on Aeroflot. Planes form
a queue, we taxi on tarmac. Good sign.
We lift in flight. A border's just a line.
Sestinas are little flying machines. They are obsessional,
repetitive and traumatized, like incessant travelers, circling in their
word circuits for the real. There is the theory that when you mistakenly
leave something behind, it means that part of you didnt want to
leave. This does not explain this poem, but it suggests the impulse to
a certain kind of poetry. One person I left behind in Russia was Bernie
Sucher, who remains among the rubles. Thanks to his $100, I was sprung
from my eternal repetitions. Bernie helped bring a whole fleet of American
diners to Moscow, so that those who have left the land of burgers and
flapjacks behind can fool their homesick stomachs. Thank you, Bernie.