Poetry Collection

Moscow’s Rejected Margaritas

 

Before they found Margarita Nikolaevna, Koroviev and Azazello did most of the searching.

 

Behemoth did some searching too, but was distracted by altogether too many things to be of much use—

chess matches in the park

a pawn shop (with a set of excellent dueling pistols for sale)

a polka band, which he changed into flamingoes

a stray child

tulips

a very nervous poodle

and

fish.

 

Hella stayed home with Messire

(we think)

where she did embroidery

(we think).

 

One does not ask

what Messire does

when he is out of view.

(We are quite certain of this.)

 

Sixty-eight Margaritas had no royal blood, not even a drop,

not a smidgen, not a hint,

despite twenty-three of them thinking they did

with eighteen hoping for a restoration

two planning to leave for France

three being staunch Party members

and all of them terrified

that someone would find out.

 

Six Margaritas were under the age of twelve.

 

Three Margaritas took the appearance of

Azazello and Koroviev at their doors

to be proof

that their neighbors had been poisoning them

and that they had in fact become delirious

as a result of the toxins.

Neither man undertook to disabuse them

of this notion, although Koroviev did take a

glass of pear juice from one woman

and left the other two with oranges

and pocketknives.

 

Two Margaritas were being poisoned by their neighbors,

but were not hallucinating.

They were merely unpleasant

and agitated

and too ill to leave their beds.

 

In addition, one Margarita was in fact

poisoning her neighbor,

a cruel but celebrated man

who died instead of tripping over

a poodle (not the one Behemoth saw)

and breaking his neck.

 

Four somewhat elderly Margaritas

and one very young one

entertained thoughts of becoming nuns.

Perhaps they were delusional.

In any event,

they were ruled out as a matter

of suitability, although their spiritual states

did offer some amusing if entirely imaginary scenarios.

 

Eight Margaritas were already witches;

two were also literary critics;

none were appropriate

for various reasons

including

fear of heights

poor hygiene

an allergy to dust

and gout.

 

Seven Margaritas said that cats

made them sneeze,

although one,

a large, older lady,

cuddled him against her

voluptuous bosom—

in which he fit quite well,

given his own large stature—

for quite some time,

fed him cream and (definitely illegal) caviar,

and brushed his coat with her

own silver-backed (possibly fake)

hairbrush.

Behemoth argued for her

but no one

listened to him.

 

One was a sculptor

whose eyes burned so intensely

Koroviev was certain she had already

met their master.

 

One was a ballerina

whose talent was so clearly

derived from diabolical sources

that she too

was passed over.

 

One was a Jew, living alone,

writing under an assumed name.

The searchers, feeling compassionate,

whisked her away to

an entirely different

country

for her own safety.

 

Four Margaritas brandished ancient-seeming ikons,

pulled out from beneath layers

of sweaters and cloth and memories

at them. Two more threatened them

with bronze heads of Lenin

and one drew, clattering it in the scabbard,

breaking bits of rust onto the polished floor,

a cavalry sabre

of a war

long past.

 

One Margarita called the demons her sons

and was so pleased that they’d come to visit.

 

One served them tea with jam

but could not speak—she’d lost

her tongue

and toes

and fingers

and husband

and daughters

to purges and pernicious cold.

 

Five Margaritas were ecstatic

and screamed yes

and yes and yes

and circled about the rooms

that they were never allowed to leave.

 

and four Margaritas simply,

perhaps wisely, perhaps foolishly,

said

no, for we do not believe in devils.

 

 

Lady, Maid, Invocation

 

I have raised up my arms to console her

and I have given her

all of the soap.

 

I have tried to sing her to sleep,

brought her draughts

of nightshade and herbs.

 

I have brought the doctor

who can do nothing at all

and I am afraid

when she walks.

 

The new moon holds the old moon

in its arms,

a sickle of light that gives her

her path.

 

I follow

as I must

where she wanders,

but her galled-up brains

are trapped

in a room

of her own

bloody decoration.

 

The chamber

her mind inhabits

is wet

and thick

with the dust of night,

with spoor

from the ride,

with the taste

of wool and iron.

 

In it she has

but one job

and easy one:

to leave behind

what should have been left behind

before.

 

I leave behind

her room

where her bed has been empty

for weeks.

I leave behind

my own sleep

which she has unknowingly

killed.

 

I know

her secrets.

And I will borrow her

cloak and call

for the raven,

the wolf,

the sightless

substances

to preserve my sanity

by bringing her end.

Come, you spirits!

Tend to me and this my charge,

this cruel and murdering woman.

 

Make steel my bones

and smoke of hers

that she will be

gusted away

over the parapets.

 

Come, you spirits!

I give you my purpose:

Take now this woman who

owes you, and return to me

my innocence. Let me be

the flower that knows not

the serpent.

 

Come, you spirits!

Claim her unnatural body,

and give me rest

for the nights and days to come.

Cleanse my conscience, and

let me wake to the

cold air in which she

as left this plane

as a single exhalation.

 

The queen, my lord, is dead.

My own tomorrow

is now again my own

and I shall sleep

not tempest-tossed

but charm-wound

with peace.

 

Highway Drone

 

Emptiness full of sky

and grass and long road,

heat lines, ocular tricks.

Sun glare and the radio

stream into hot air,

black plastic,

drowsy eyes and ears.

There must be cattle

nearby

somewhere;

coyote and armadillo

patrol the black top,

crossing and lazing,

tiny flyblown specks

by the vast retreating

land.