On staring at a photo of Osip Mandelstam

OK Osya, you’ve made your point –
you’ve seen it all – you’re right.
As your eyes imply, I’ve never heard
that knock on the door at night;

never drunk for consolation tears
of a see-through Petropolis – town
where Gogol’s devil lights the lamps;
never perched on a ledge to fling down

my life. Your wife who wrenched you back
learns mercy would have killed. You stand
for speech that won’t be silenced,
the stubborn cry of a tongueless land.

I’ve heard your voice – the Soviet archives
produced a cylinder. Crackle and hiss
distorting the distant sounds,
an audience was haunted to hear this

Mandelstam, icon of his time and place.
Buried in some transit camp, forever
on the move: Siberia, December ’38 –
we think that’s when you died – then, and never.


©Virginia Rounding, 1993

First published in Acumen 20, October 1994

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