the storycurator
stories about real life and creativity

a blog by jan doets

 

It has been a relief
to admit to myself that I cannot trust you
it’s not a judgment
rather that from now on
I will treat you with the respect given to Nature
the storms that sweep through this part of the country
and the dry Diablo winds in October

no longer will I throw myself on your mercy
waiting for your opinion
keeping quite still
until I see a smile on your face
as though I could divine an agenda
a plan for the future

I will love you no less
for your being a mystery

released from fear and expectation
an admirer still
but knowing how you are
I’ll be free to court you

Stuart Dodds

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En el centro de San Francisco
en medio de un terreno en constructión,
fué recién descubierto
en una tierra mil veces milenésima
un arbusto de manzanita.

Florida, blanca, fresca,
sin mancha—la olvidada,
la casi desaparecida
manzanita francescana.

Fué como si en la tierra primordiál
hubiera sido despositado
por los Ángeles
un ramo nupciál.

 

The Miraculous Manzanita

In midtown San Francisco
on a construction site,
recently discovered,
growing on a multi-millenial
strip of earth, a manzanita bush.

 
Flowering in white blossom,
fresh and unspotted, almost extinct,
a manzanita francescana.

 
It was as if in primordial earth
There had been deposited
by the Angels
a nuptial bouquet.

Dedicado a Drake, el futuro poeta

 Natasha Borovsky        

 

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A windae seemed to open
all of a sudden wi’ nae fuss or effort
and into the gairden
bobbed and jinked
the grey folk and ither dafties o’ the munelicht
in an awfu scene o’ muckle joy
wi’ a violin dancing
a piano
lowping ower its path

Stuart Dodds

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Natasha Borovsky (1924-1982) and her parents, the great Russian pianist Alexander Borovsky and Maria Sila-Nowicki, were close friends of Sergei Prokofiev, his wife Lina Codina, and their sons Sviatoslav and Oleg until the Prokofievs left Paris for the USSR in 1937 , as has been described in articles 29-40 of The Chronicle of Moussia. In 2002/03, Natasha recorded her dreamed memories of that period, starting off with a poem. The sequel, the actual memories, follows below.

 

Igor

Sequel to the poem, “Call for Help.”

Igor is the name my dream substituted for that of my childhood friend, I will continue to use it until the denouement of this true story. If the story is vague in its dates and details, it is because it came to me in fragments, like a childhood memory or a dream.

 

We called him Bébain.

He was five years younger than me and his brother, Sviatoslav. Sviatoslav, a Della Robbia angel with blonde locks and I, the willful one with straight hair, were like twins.

We all lived together in a large and light apartment on the Rive Droite facing the Trocadéro.                                                                                                                          Before the Revolution, our fathers had been classmates at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. My father was the first to hear, as he was later to perform, the piano compositions of his friend.

Sviatoslav’s father spanked us —with good reason—and my French governess nicknamed him Papa Shliopé. In Russian, shliopa means a spanking.

I wasn’t the least afraid of him.

Ptashka— or lark—was the nickname for his gay and graceful little wife of part-Spanish descent, Linette. Linette sang; my mother, “Madame Récamier,” the romantic beauty, played the piano. Polyglot and daring both.

On a summer day, my fifth birthday, I see again a garden in Clamart.
All of us traveled a lot.

* * *

Towards the end of the nineteen-twenties, our families separated. Mine settled in Berlin.

Hitler and the  subsequent  breakup of my parents, brought my mother and me back to Paris. I renewed my friendship with Sviatoslav, my beautiful fiancé, and his younger brother, Bébain, also a towhead but without curls and precociously intelligent. (His father taught him to play chess at the age of five.)

The boys created a to-do nation-wide when they got lost in a quarry in the Midi. This time they got more than a spanking from Papa Shliopé!

Then, in 1937, I think, all four left for the Soviet Union. The father was never to return.

My own father, on tour, saw his friend in Moscow a year later—acclaimed and privileged but virtually a prisoner.

Linette was beside herself.

The boys were adapting as well as they could to Soviet existence when their father fell in love with a young communist and deserted them. But imagine their shock when, one fine morning, or rather, one fine night, their mother, Linette, was dragged off to prison. The gay songbird was to spend eight years caged.

Was it through fear or impotence that her famous husband kept quiet?  Was it his means, by cutting his ties to the West, of bearing that life of Kafka-esque nightmare?  Leaving his pretty, witty and spoiled little wife, the mother of his children, to rot in prison?  A rather cowardly act of survival for a man reputed to be brave!

And his sons, what became of them?

Abandoned, hungry, at their wit’s end, they were rescued by a schoolgirl, Sviatoslav’s classmate and future wife.

Fifty years later in Moscow, in the very same small but attractive apartment where we sat, she told me of finding  the neglected and desperate boys after they had been missing from school for several days.  Here they remained under her care and here she continued to live with Sviatoslav after they were married. He became an architect, she a physician.

Long before, Linette, freed from prison and eventually rehabilitated, had escaped to the West with her younger son. For them, it felt like an escape although there were no great obstacles in their way once the tyrant was dead and his rule discredited.

By a curious coincidence, Serge Prokoviev died on the same day as Stalin.

* * *

Prokofiev’s Soviet marriage was not generally known or acknowledged in the West. Linette was greeted and accepted there as the composer’s only legitimate widow. She had ample money from his royalties to live on and to support Oleg and his children from two different mothers­—it is time to give him back his real name and to return Igor to the land of dreams.

I saw Linette several times before she died, in Berkeley, London and Paris. Now round as a butter ball, she had a wicked tongue from which I was not spared. Yet she remained as close and dear to me as a second mother. Far from being crushed by her years in a Soviet prison, she seemed to have waged war with her jailers and emerged victorious. She detested the Soviet system but did not blame her late husband for having abandoned her to its mercy. She spoke freely of the great composer Serge Prokofiev and of the way in which she was feted as his widow. She did not like her English daughter-in -law nor her undisciplined English grandchildren.  I was witness to the tense if not hostile relationship she had with the poor but proud son she supported.

* * *

I visited Oleg-Bébain in a suburb of London amidst the chaos of his growing English family. I felt towards this tall, blond, bohemian Russian in whom I saw the little boy with the high forehead, an immediate affection, an old intimacy as strong and mysterious as those that seized me ten years later in the presence of his older brother. Such is the power of childhood emotions, life’s first and freshest.

At this first meeting, he made haste to show me his semi-religious paintings of Russian subjects, which I liked. Later, he constructed abstract sculptures in wood.  He wrote poetry I couldn’t understand, some of which he inscribed on his sculptures. Like his father, he had the artist’s egocentricity that isolated him from reality and lightened, if it did not erase, his sense of responsibility. In the case of Oleg, deprived of his mother as a young boy, fear of responsibility did not keep him from satisfying his need for a complacent and admiring wife—he had three.

We met several times, before and after my marriage to Stuart, (the British gentleman of whom the pitiless Linette approved) and the publication of my novel. In the course of our encounters, he spoke to me of his first wife, the German intellectual, of his own philosophy, his reading, his thoughts, but not a word about the father whom, as a child, he must have very much loved.

He was beginning to win renown as a sculptor, due, I suspect, to the paternal name rather than his own indisputable talent, when he died of a heart attack in his sixty ninth year. He did not write to me after my stroke. Did illness and death frighten him?  He had lost one of his children to cancer, and he virtually lost his parents, while they lived, one to desertion, the other to imprisonment.  He never alluded to that sad epoch which must have marked him so profoundly.

* * *

Why did he appear to me under a false name, so alive in his cell, a symbol of prisoners of conscience the world over?  Linette Prokofiev, not Oleg, had languished in prison for eight years. Was it my  conscience that gnawed at me, that demanded my brutal death?

Oleg was like a brother and so was Sviatoslav…But they are all my brothers, the incarcerated ones, whom I am powerless to free!

Yes, I am guilty. All conscious adults are guilty. And if from time to time, a bloody expiation be necessary for the honor of Humanity, for its survival perhaps, would I have had the courage I showed in my dream, to sacrifice myself?

I doubt it.

 

*Where did the name Igor come from?  I puzzled over this question  before the connection became clear. Prince Igor Constantinovitch Romanov was a childhood friend and intended fiancé of my fictional heroine, Tatyana, in my novel  “A Daughter of the Nobility.”  He and other members of his family suffered a slow and indescribably cruel death at the hands of the Bolsheviks

 

Natasha Borovsky

Berkeley, California

February 22, 2003

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Natasha Borovsky (1924-1982) and her parents, the great Russian pianist Alexander Borovsky and Maria Sila-Nowicki, were close friends of Sergei Prokofiev, his wife Lina Codina, and their sons Sviatoslav and Oleg until the Prokofievs left Paris for the USSR in 1937 , as has been described in articles 29-40 of The Chronicle of Moussia. In 2002/03, Natasha recorded her dreamed memories of that period, starting off with a poem. The sequel, the actual memories, will follow tomorrow.

 

I am dying.
In filth and in horror
I am dying.

I wanted to draw  attention
to the fate of my childhood friend, Igor,
prisoner of conscience.
I had proclaimed his innocence
to an indifferent world..
I had shouted long

in my poetry, my books.
Futile exertions!
This time I was determined to be heard.
So I clung to the bars of his cell
calling for help.
I only managed to attract the guards.

But at last, beyond the prison walls,
on the stairs, in the corridors,
the journalists are pouring in.
They are running to our rescue!
I grip the cell bars all the harder
while the blows rain down upon me

and I am dying.
In blood and in terror
I am dying.

* * *
It was only a nightmare.
My friend Igor…that’s another story.
If I must die in anguish and pain,
at least let me retain
a remnant of honor.

Natasha Borovsky
Berkeley, California
12/17/02

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Years later, when my father came to see me
he was frail, blinking nervously in the California light
stripped of his power
his power over me—
I thought years away from me had weakened him

like his struggle with me
his life’s work was over—
in a sense, I was his life’s work
his career

no longer angry or ambitious
but interested, deferential
appearing to care
(he did care)
at this remove
on a Western shore, he worked no spell
the war was over

Stuart Dodds

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No setting, no context, no blueprints
No ground of being
No strophe or anti-strophe, no bass or treble clef
No time signature, no thermostat
No grid, no spheres turning, no ball bearings
No circle of friends, no enemies
No family or country or sense of nationhood—no soldiers
No angle of distortion, no angle
No frame or occasion for a speech
No audience for a play, no play
No writing, no publishers
No transmission lines marching through the hills
No sunlight or verandahs of carved screens
No trees, no grass or flowers at the river’s edge
No ships on the horizon or fish in the sea
No boundaries, no alphabet and no conversation

 

Stuart Dodds

 

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Grievance

He is a man who has been hurt long ago
and guards his hurt like a treasure
he can fill the room with it
a coolness in the air
the suggestion of storm clouds
in his dark eyes, his melancholy smile—
he is not displeased with himself
with his deep sense of having been wronged
nor will he let anyone intercede
between him and the cause of his suffering
or try to put it in perspective
(it happened so long ago!)

there is a deep piousness in him
regarding this old injustice
it is a theme with richness and power
and it is his
any form of intervention
even a casual remark
may be taken as blasphemy

those who know him
step carefully around him
and watch what they say

Stuart Dodds

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Coffee House

Holding the small white cup of coffee
in its small white saucer
and turning
to decide where I would sit
in this airy place
with lacy wrought-iron tables and chairs
and French windows opening onto a field of sunshine and wild flowers

I am aware of someone else (a familiar figure)
another man within me
aware of having turned this way before
with the exact same cup and saucer
looking about a room with hardwood floors
and outside, an unkempt garden
the smell of coffee and the hissing of espresso machines
two of us

there had always been two of us
not always on speaking terms
and rarely, in a musical sense, together
but this morning, we were together
one within the other
had we been color plates
you would say the registration was perfect
and that is how we would like it

Stuart Dodds

 

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Knowing

“What can this be?” she said, leaning forward and turning up the car radio.
“A series of variations by Beethoven for violin and piano. It’s very nice,” I said.
“You have to wonder where it all comes from,” she said.
“Well,” I said. “it’s on a theme of Händel, ‘See the Conquering Hero …’

from the oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus.”

“Yes, I know,” she said.
“ If you knew, why did you ask?”
“I mean where does all of this come from. I know what it is. “
“You mean all this stuff?”
“Exactly,” she said.

Stuart Dodds

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