Nadeshda -- A Found Poem

From the memories of Arthur Koestler in Invisible Writing,
Chapter Ten pg. 90-109
Nadeshda's words are mine and all the rest, are exactly Koestler's, edited and rearranged but unchanged

 

I.

TIFLIS

Short circuit
The lights out in the sleeping car
A girl entered the compartment followed
By a tall officer of the Red army.
Slim, tailored black suit
Brown hair which shimmered
In the light of the candle
You looked at us
And looked

A profile of classic haughty purity,
The vaulted forehead and chiseled lips
Of a Greek youth,
But a disturbing contrast between
Profile and frontal view.
En face the inhuman
Features had a touching
Wistful quality

“Excuse us, wrong compartment,” I said
out of the darkness

The pair left
With a nod and a bow, completely out of place
In the drab proletarian world.
I slept with a guilty, aching nostalgia
for the world
the decaying bourgeoisie,
Where women were
Graceful, smelt of scent,
and spent hours in their bathtubs.
And the next morning in the corridor
We stood in silence at the window

Why did you not speak to me then? I never believed in your shyness.

Thus started
The saddest affair of my lifetime.
Her head bent over the tea glass,
The eternal romantic deviation

“Going to Baku?” you asked me, when I sat down
in the dining car
as if any other place
lay at the end
of the line

black bread, salted herrings, vodka, tea,
again red caviar
zakushka
She spoke French with that melodious Russian drawl
That is the only legitimate maltreatment of the the French language

I recited for you passages of Pushkin and Mayakovsky
And you made me laugh

Behind her gayness
The impenetrable reserve
Of the jeune fille de bonne famille

You said you thought I was an actress or a ballerina, but
“The Water Board position assures one a quieter life,” 
I replied, sure that you, of all people, 
Would understand
Some of us must remain unnoticed.

She constantly widened her eyes in surprise
Leaned in to me
Leaned in
Her pupils wide and so dark

I asked you many questions about the cities beyond Russia
The long plains sped by
in horizontal geography, 
each window frame identical
To the last -- you looked away

I suddenly began to see her
As a sick child tied
To its bed by some paralytic disease

You had been to a party I could never attend, 
In gleaming rooms a dream
Of evening gowns and fragile fabric.
I wore a sweater with a silver label,
traded to me by a traveler from Geneva.
You laughed and promised me silk stockings.
I knew it for a wish and a lie

II.  

BAKU

Two grey rooms,
A sofa where she slept
The aunt devoid
Of curiosity lace
at her neck, perfect French,
served tea
And we walked out together.

I was so proud of that green sweater
Red shooes, the suede only a little scuffed
I took your arm in my small radiance

nadeshda2.JPG

The next day I met Werner
In line
Waiting for red caviar.
A crippled shoulder, a sweet weasel grin
A refugee story I did not believe,
But had the thrilling thought
My new friend was a Comrade from the Apparat.
Within a week I had his story
Over vodka at my Inturist room:
He survived after the war
In France and Belgium
Killing cats and selling the skins for bread,
Until given local liquidation duties by the Party-Apparat.
Of these murders he spoke without emotion.

But you told me of the Weasel's dreams: 
Milk-seeping eyes of dead cats.

“Your friend,” Werner said
“I have asked my Nalchik about your girl’s Aunt
and my boss laughed and said “Staraya, sta-raya spionka --
An old, old spy."
And Nadeshda?
“Under observation.”

How could you be such a fool, dear one?
You, having escaped Hitler
in the luck of the night
rushing here on a Stalin invitation.
You led him to me.

I could not believe the shuffling aunt was really a spy.
If Werner met my girl he would see
The absurdity.
And that, of course, was precisely what he wanted.
I couldn’t tell her what Werner was.
That would be a breach of Party discipline
And he had confided in me
His stories.

Of cats and of murder and of the smells

III. 

It was an unhappy lunch
At a black-market restaurant
In spite of the shashlik, and the drinks
And the gypsies, unhappy.
She had refused to come at first,
But I could see the wistful little
Girl behind the classic profile,
Shimmering with curiosity and desire.
I discovered that the need to worship
May be stronger than desire.
There was a hush
As she wended her way between the tables
With her floating
Weightless walk.

It was an unhappy lunch
The Weasel's eyes became rounder
Each time he looked at me
I became more frightened each time
I looked at you

She was frightened in the manner of the brave,
Head held a little higher.
A great stillness came over her
Body becalmed waiting for the axe to fall.
In Russia personal pride is not considered
A virtue it is not
A sin to be affable to those you fear.

The Weasel-boy remembered the old
Stations as soon as he saw me he
hated the way I held my fork.
I hated the way I held my fork,
but I lifted it anyway
And he watched my mouth
And you watched my mouth

Trying to get Werner to relax,
I would demonstrate
We are not so different.
A mistake
As Nadeshda became the lonely
Apex of our triangle.
I became increasingly base
Not conscious of the choice
Unthinking, automatic
This is the excuse for most betrayals

IV.

One does not think at a given moment
I am
Going
To be a traitor
One slides into treason by degrees

For ten days I tried to avoid you
I wasn’t home
But we walked together again
Laughed outside the cable office

I stuck the garbled cable

Into your pocket lining
Where you held my hand

When the cable came up missing
It did not seem important.
I did, however, report the incident
To Werner.
Denunciation is the Party’s Germ-
Warfare against the human spirit
The elementary duty of every Party member,
A test of loyalty.

You, beloved, you who never had.
never again would.
Denounce another

I would have died
For her readily and with a glow of joy.
During my seven years in the Communist Party
The only person I ever denounced or betrayed

Was me. Only me.
You gave me up, gave me away.
You introduced me and spoke of me,
You only walked away
Without me.
And the fact
That we could breathe together
That our kisses were flying pieces of
Unmistakable joy
Did you forget that or remember
And choose against it?
Do I want to know the category
Of leavetaking? My wolf, my white-toothed lover,
Your marks have faded from my breast
And left me more hungry
I cannot watch
The end

IV.

The explanation
Of the mystery, the betrayal
That missing cable
The most unbearable part
She whose proud profile would show no
Personal curiosity about me or my life

I was too proud to speak of them,
your previous lovers, your lovers
Whom I envied
Their silk pleated brassieres worn
And removed for your hand
Their morning coffee by a river soft
Buttered bread and a silver knife like
My mother must have used
Lovers who made you wait
While they tried on a hat
Silver pink gauze, perhaps, then
Looked at you with just the right angle

She, who betrayed curiosity only about the Jordan and the Nile,
Had pinched the cable to know
Whether it came from a wife or a mistress
In glittering Paris or Berlin with
The curiosity of a child.
A child I betrayed 

I took it thinking of your secrets, yes
Your secrets
Not those of which you write
But those of which you dream

I could not know then
That when the Terror came
A denunciation of this kind would be enough

To seal my Fate.

From my hotel window I could sometimes hear the little wail
Of the steam boat on the Caspian Sea
“Why don’t you tell her to get herself a job in some other town,”
Werner said on the last day;
Over worked spy-masters in small
Towns rarely bothered to forward such information.

I shook my head when you mentioned transfer,
thought of my Auntie among her last things
and the water ran down my cheek with the kitchen soap
on the second rinse.
That detergent cosmetic always made you sad for me.

Werner said with his little grimace
And his soft steady gaze
Du wurdest gewogen und zu leicht befunden”
You have been weighed and found wanting.

We said good-bye in the rain on the sleet-mad dock
My kisses ever more insistent
Why, why, did you tell me to go
And did not ask me to follow.

In he darkness Nadeshda’s face looked to me the same
As it had in the sleeping car on that first night
Pure, severe, child-like
I waited for the redeeming whistle of the boat
Her hand now dead and lifeless

In your tweed pocket, my hand now a polite loan.
The last moment of these weeks in which
I became me you betrayed
My kindling heat
Drowned and with the ink
All running
Down the blue cable
Date flowing into the mud of Baku
And my almost-new suede shoes
Seeping vermilion
Ruined

Eight Angels

On Writer's Block