Sonya's Tale Of Rasputin
by over a hundred years;
Daddy a dynamo, prolific,
with new wives as often as new cars.
Sis's name is Sonya,
and she spoke to me,
not a year after she died.
My tea had gone cold on the night table,
and so she brought a samovar and a tale to tell,
waking me with a kiss.
Being kissed by ghosts may be a Russian thing,
like the men getting drunk, or the inevitable failure of the collectives.
I patted the bed and we sat together,
like reindeer waiting to pull the sleigh of a midnight fable.
Finally, Sonya began.
"I met Grigori Rasputin in a barn when I was 17.
He was asleep, slack-jawed in late morning half-light,
the motes spinning lazily around him like stars.
The Russian cross he wore
and the vodka bottle he cradled
both shone as if they had souls of their own."
I propped myself up with an elbow and listened.
"There are ways and there are ways, little sparrow," Sonya went on.
"Labor is productive, prayer is powerful.
But sometimes the breeze stirs the leaves just as if they were barynya dancers.
All I did was set my bucket down and join him--a breeze myself--
and he showed me how God created the world."
I said, "They say he stank. That he was insane!
How could you--"
"Pochemuchka," my sister whispered,
"Madness is essentially Russian. Without that,
without hallucinations in our blood, how could we endure the winter?
And he smelled only of straw,
holiness, and masculine vigor."
Sonya smiled then.
"Little One, do you remember my oldest,
the sandy-haired one, my poet who died on the battlefield in 1915?
Of course you wouldn't. I forget how young you are."
She looked far away for a moment, even for a ghost.
"He had the gift.
The same one you have,
a closeness with the spirit world, and an appetite for everything."
The tea was gone.
Even here, dawn arrives eventually.
Sonya finished her story, saying,
"I warned Grigori to beware
of cakes, aristocrats, bullets, and wide cold waters.
He laughed, his big bearded head thrown back,
a booming laugh like a fireball landing in a Siberian forest.
He told me he already knew."
With that, Sonya was gone.
Our old one-eyed rooster crowed outside in the yard.
I sat up, pushing my long hair back with my fingers,
and collected my coat, scarf, and ice skates.
Out, then, to the pond where a local fox keeps her den full of kits,
watching my every move.
I spread my arms out to glide, easy as branches in a breeze,
not needing to lay eyes on her to know,
just the same,
that she is there.
for Out of Standard at Toads
pochemuchka--a child who asks a lot of questions
barynya--traditional "Cossack Dance" featuring the prisyadka, or knee-bend.