Set in 19th Century Russia during a time of war
You instruct me to go to the church. Defy the innocents. Rub holy water on my breasts. Put my lips to the lips of God. I stand before you staring at your mouth. Unable to speak. This journey, dear Petrov, will not be my saving grace. Salvation coming from the rocks and streams. The white birch forest. The mountain always in view. Protective. Its great shadow veils the house and what I most fear. Over top the guns fire. I try enduring that sound. Will I outlive the guns and cannon fire. A soldier you have no answer. A soldier coated in the stench of war. Though I brushed your coat and scrubbed your boots ‘til my hands ached. My sink a font. I bow to what my sink must endure. The birds come back each spring with a troubling regularity. They have the freedom to choose while I do not. I have few freedoms. Which hat to wear. Whether to darn my cloak or go ragged. The saints went ragged I say. Causing you to laugh considerably. Loud and bellowing. Crashing. Knocking your whisky over. I cover my ears and move toward the kitchen. Looking out its one smudged window. Singing a soft prayer: O black birds of Russia I know it isn’t true, the rage still burns bright in you.
Martyrs have been sacrificed in the great paintings. Room after room framed glittering gold. Splashes of red and a worried sky. The gleaming blade, dear Petrov. While crows poised in trees, mourners knelt on the ground in prayer. I saw the pictures as a child. Gripping my father’s hand. In the great city where the church spires shine golden too. Even without a shining sun. Our hands gloved and a carriage with a top cover and sides. Brilliant black. Blankets over our laps. Unlike my open trap to which I tether my horse. Oh beloved creature. I am happy to share my potatoes. Your tongue rolls rough against my palm. After feeding I take to your back once more. Riding slowly through this house. A clip clop. Each room the sea changing color. Green to blue to dullest gray. Deplorable ruin. Down to the cellars where rough beams hang low. You know to duck your sweeping head. This trick I have learnt from you. My friend of a thousand seasons. One common potato. Clutching your neck I promise you one more.
I stitch my love on time. Imaginings. The brightness of grass again is stitched near the top. Warmth enough to float in the river stitched yellow. The flat river rocks heating my feet up through my skull stitched red. Along the borders. Everything happens along the borders you say. Blue stitching for the summer sky. Glorious blue. Almost unreal. You ask if I am making a pillow. Yes. A pillow, dear Petrov. Soft. For you to rest your neck in battle. When the guns have quieted and you so long for respite. My breast and your head pressed together. The air coming out of you. Short warm bursts on my skin. Alive. You are still alive. Each night you are here your weight upon me. Crushing the straw mattress. Sighs. How I long to be out dancing when there is only music. No guns. No screams from the almost dead. Not that I am able to hear the almost dead. Only in sleep. Accompanying nightmares. Each dream stitched black. The owls and hawk. Other frightful sounds. Animals down the chimney. Winter lightning once struck the roof. You were away at battle. I thought it would take down the house.
Trust I have little to spare. I have my house about to fall down. The harsh Russian winters. Once a very fine house. Before the wars. When most ran or were eliminated. A matter of luck. And my father. Away with a baby home in a cradle. Went simply unnoticed. Was that not luck. Depending. My father’s eyes died after. Is that considered luck. A tumble down house better than no house. Perhaps it’s best to dwell in a cave. Nothing to take when the time comes. I have what I have. My horse who lives and breathes alongside me. Through the days and nights when the walls change from land to sea. Night and its own confusions. Tented star-studded black velvet. Much like your regiment sets up camp. The mountain shimmers purple, dear Petrov. Do you notice. Here rogues roam for money and drink. Keep the doors bolted, you say. These are strange and difficult times. You look content in your chair. Worn. Blue velvet I cover each time you leave. A cloth of cherries trailing green stems. Spring-like. Giving me some hope. The fever the moment the door slams shut behind you. I rush up the stairs to look out the attic spaces. Watching you stomp down the road. To meet your regiment somewhere past the curve. The road bends then lost to shadows.
Books in the house damp and dying. Opening one the cover falls in my lap. Stained. Gold on its edges razed. Such a tragedy you would say with a smirk. But then you are a soldier. Tragedy occupies your time. I look toward the window. A small breeze swaying the sage. The day is temperate. Gathering my shawl tightly I walk the distance to the birch forest. Stepping into its shadowy folds. Cool white towers. Walking ‘til I find the small clearing. Lying down. Feeling my father pulsing below. Many seasons gone. The birches are perhaps the true ghosts. Guarding me in this land. Protecting what used to be. A girl who stumbled repeatedly refusing to fall. Dear Petrov I have heard the stories of families levelled to dirt. What of my own. Does that story interest you. Or have you been too shaped by war. While I am simply the slag left after the smelting process. Can you feel my hand touching your face. Neck. Anything beyond your most elemental needs. Whisky. The fire heat, food down your throat. A warm bed. You take me to the bed. Grunting as you move in me. I want to scream out an aria. Inconsistent of course. The birches when they were as you and I. Must have been a glorious thing their coupling.
You ask why I wear white. To merge with the clouds on blue days. A comfort to a body cold and white as the snows. I don’t say I only wear white for you. Turning back time for a little while. To come alive again. That when you are gone I carry the end on my back. Dresses of coal and mourning. The hours huddled in my bed. Bitten by bugs in the straw. While birds continue to sing. As if being led I step onto brittle boards. I light the fire and sip my tea, dear Petrov. Winter releases its dark horn. Time changes, and again. Finally your boots. Stomping up my path. Covered in muck and blood. Reeking. Stench of a thousand battles. Do you notice the odor, dear Petrov. The last time during the blooming sage. A pity. I count the seasons as one. For you I rush to the wardrobe. Choosing the whitest day muslin. A white silk beginning to darken saved for the nights. Less obvious. Becoming the bride men fear to love.