From a cramped apartment
facing a centuries-old prison, I glimpse molars
of ice floating on the Neva. The 300-plus bridges
stretch like wire braces across the tongue of the river.
Each one decorated: here an imperial eagle guards
the once sacred water, as dreary barges drag their cargo,
there chipped spirals lace through a golden Rococo wreath.
Like a peasant wrapping her feet in strips of muslin,
I prepare for the frozen onslaught, bind my body
for warmth, lean into the cold, then down the vertical
escalator into the bowels of the metro.
A smell of damp wool and tired scarves hover
in the cars’ air like leering dybbuks.*
After two stops, the pulsating crowd
thrusts me into the unmerciful snow.
I awaken into a snaking line at one of the kiosks
that hugs the walls at Pushkinskaya Metro,
a mollusc clinging to a ship without reason.
Each pedestrian burdened by frayed bags
of potatoes and cabbages, in a Russian winter
without promise of end, where the words March
and April no longer synonyms for spring.
A grey stupor hangs over the city
a muffled excuse for the decay.
The tzar’s palaces rendered mute.
I stand motionless, until racks of seeds call out
in seductive brilliance, promises of red, pink,
even an outrage of orange. And like the grey-coated
in front of me, cry Me too! me too! shoving fistfuls
of worthless rubles through an ever shrinking window.
* In Jewish folklore, the evil spirits of the dead that enter and control a living person’s body.