Elvira Basevich

Hegel is Right Again

“[But] the fact that things merely are is of no help to them.”

G.W.F. Hegel

 

I am a cosmonaut and run a real risk of exploding in outer space.

The talismans you gave me were useless 

against the violent splendor of galaxies

bubbling in the backs of angels, 

growing suns like a new pair of wings.

Useless against keeping my suitors from falling in love with me. 

I rip up their letters and grow gloomy 

at the sight of the flowers they send me. When I miss you, 

at the sound of footfalls in the corridor,

I still shove them into the closet, but it is never you anymore. 

 

More than anything I would like to do something to upset you

but I am a university professor now 

and all my friends admire me. For an extra helping of bread 

and potatoes, I no longer need to write love letters 

to governments anywhere on this bludgeoning 

star that shakes off human beings 

like breadcrumbs from a tablecloth after Shabbos. 

 

An amphora will show who struck first—

that a peplos and a flower blew in the wind, 

when Asia Minor first blushed with riches,

dumb with unrepentant thieves and the murder of civilizations. 

When you first raised your voice 

to curse god and laughed at the created world

he created, as a still illiterate child, 

a poem came to me like a dove with a branch.

I did not know then 

that we too were the dove and the branch.

 

Existence is perfection, you said, my first love,

my medieval philosopher. In compensation for not being born 

with a little more money or a nationality—

neither the offspring of providence nor the ocean—

I was born completely naked.

A nurse laid me across your chest

and a demented arrow flew us to America. 

How the Apgar Test is Performed

 

If the infant cries well, the respiratory score is 2.

 

            In the blue bowl of the morning, fresh cut parsley and scallions cried out in the market below. The scissors had already begun to move; the cotton swabs, the antiseptic instruments, and the crisp, white bedsheets. The well-oiled machinery of the days grown inside glass jars like white blood cells shored up our strength.

Was it? a half-opened window pried apart the mother-of-pearl of our conjoined

solitude. Was it? in the cutting of the bright pink envelope, the avenues of a ruined

body. I opened my mouth as wide as I could. It was the first day of school. Here.

Alighting for a hiccup and a burp, in my first human voice, you said, 

   softly,

 

                                                «Прекрасно.»

 

If heart rate is greater than 100 beats per minute, the infant scores 2 for heart rate.

 

Knock, knock, a strand of horses, agitated. Then, a dark hallway, carrying the scent of a summer day, a recent rainfall. A corridor split four ways, a mechanism that glues a ballerina to a music box and sets her spinning. Out of habit, I opened the box. There was music. There were so many people. And a note with a folded corner, passed down by all the painted angels in the nursery.                       Dimly, then, I 

                               saw the thing-in-itself,                    Plato’s original form

                                                              the Good in everyone. 

                         When you think about it,         it’s all turning out 

 

                                                        perfect.

 

If there is active motion, the infant scores 2 for muscle tone.

 

The almanac of ‘89, fish nested in tree branches, with hurricaned cars, and Soviet writers living

in exile in the East Village. Snow fell from the lamp-posts of their convalescence.

What a stroke of luck! In the differentia of animal kingdoms and introductory metaphysics textbooks,                       two instances of the same kind exist                in extended space and counted time,                             even in slightly different modes,

              so,                 it makes sense when    

                        they put           us   

                                                      right next to each other.       

 

                                       Your mode and mine   tingling like little bells.

 

                                       When the prayers of a wandering Jew slipped out of you and moved through      

                                       me,                           clinging to my viscera,                    distinguishing             your

                                       soul from mine, 

 

                                                    perfectly.

 

If there is grimacing and a cough, sneeze, or vigorous cry, the infant scores 2 for reflex irritability.

 

What would you have done, Reader? Ovid writes that the water nymphs of Albula once gathered at the mouths of dead rivers. In the breaking dusk, its translucence sunk into the moon’s dull glass. Somewhere beneath the elevated trains and the vegetable garbage of Brighton Beach, I learned to sucked it in with the dumb faith of a televangelist, of a girl in love. I thought that that summer would last forever. I could hardly stand it, how good it felt. How right. 

 

                                How

                                                          perfect.

 

If the entire body is pink, the infant scores 2 for color.

            Grinding in the pink marble, the shock of mortality. I’m feeling much better now. I’m not crying anymore. I arrive at the train station and watch the schoolchildren; some wave, some spit at the passing trains. 

The Part of Me That's A Jewish Poet

previously published in Projector Magazine

                                    in memory of my paternal grandmother Nelli Basevich (1917-2017)

 

I.

The part of me that’s a Jewish poet would like to sit 

shiva for the rest of my life, raise a monument to Babi Yar 

with the objects on my kitchen table: a book 

of Italian poetry, a dirty spoon, an unopened bill from 

the electric company. Like a spray of machine-gun fire, 

a star-rise pierces the bluffs of St. Petersburg, 

climbing the cathedrals that are swept up like roses

thrown on a stage. At the feet of ballerinas

pattering behind heavy curtains, dusk lowers its belly 

into the dust of blown-out matchsticks 

who still cling to their passports and implausible 

interpretations of the Old Testament. In the bathtub, 

I pour hot water over my limbs. I await a reprieve— 

I dislodge a bullet from the Jewish part of my heart.

 

 

II.

                                                                                       Beside a Lake

The part of me that’s a Jewish poet would like to 

begin training for the Imperial Russian Ballet as soon as possible

to glide over the icy waters that spread in between larches

and smokestacks like raspberry marmalade. 

Flying through the air, I’m confetti on New Year’s Eve.

I’m Margarita on her broom. The wet eyes of pine needles 

shake in the glass vale of the morning,snow falls from

thin, crooked branches. In the nighttime, everything 

you loved floats above the city, folds in its leaves for Daphne 

sprinting through the tangle, in case I too decide 

to run for my life. But, the truth is, I am braver than anyone I 

know or have read about.I have learned to move by watching ordinary objects:

the scaly fragments of bark,the migration 

of butterflies, a piece of lace thrown over a sewing machine. 

 

III.

Besides, the part of me that’s a Jewish poet does not want refuge.

Under an overcast sky, for a living, I make passersby believe that anything

is possible—as you must have once believed, briefly.

The part of me that’s a Jewish poet would like to believe, too.

 

                                                 Over the bed in the ward, a small blue light announces a new soul.[1]

 

Besides, I have a new routine. I sit on a park bench talking to myself.

I fold open the pages of my kitchen calendar 

like a ladder and climb into my future. 

I read the pages of the Haggadah, 

as if I were licking sprinkles off an ice cream cone. 

I trade in sentiment as cheap and colorful as the flowers sold in train stations.

Tormented by nostalgia, as by a blackguard

and hungry seagulls, the part of me that’s a Jewish poet 

is lost in a parking lot in Detroit. I cannot fake it.

I leap without convincing anyone that I am a snowflake or a swan.

 

 

IV.

At least I am not in love with anybody. But, all the same,

the same part of me asks, aloud, with Amichai — 

“Hey you there! (Do you love me?)” —

At least I am not waiting for it to rain frogs 

and locusts, in spite of the shattering 

of glass and bone, and the torch-lit marches, as midnight 

strikes in America. And yet, I can still hear you

whisper in the night, “Yes, I love you. I love you. I love you.”

 

                                                                         Exeunt

 

The part of me that’s a Jewish poet puts 

her lips to a mezuzah and presses her mouth down hard.

I want him to feel my breath

through my teeth and spit and gaping nothings. 

I make my presence known to the appropriate offices. 

On a clear day in December, 

a white rosette splits its body as it falls from the sky.

This is how it begins for us.

 

____________________________________

[1]From Sylvia Plath, “The Surgeon At 2 A.M.”

Elvira Basevich is assistant professor of philosophy at University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Her poems explore identity, place, and belonging. The recurrent theme in her poems is the idea of home, its loss and sudden revelation. The poems included here are part of a book project that in part retrace her mother’s journey as a Jewish-Uyghur refugee from the Soviet Union. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, TriQuarterly, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Projector Magazine, & Feminist Wire. Her first monograph W.E.B. Du Bois: The Lost and the Found is forthcoming with Polity.