the storycurator
stories about real life and creativity

a blog by jan doets

 

You said in the morning before light
you were visited by fear
with fragments of a dream fading slowly
fear like a thread
you did say “thread”

a filament glowing in the dark
showing the way—
Ariadne’s thread
a way in and out of the Labyrinth

there are those who have navigation charts and maps
with paintings of sea horses and dolphins
others have radar screens,
paraffin lamps and candles
and you have your fear
to light the way—
unparalleled light, unparalleled gift!

 

Stuart Dodds

 

 

 

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I don’t know if Marlowe helped my business
he was an ornament
reclining in the window
or walking slowly over the table displays
with a tiger’s gait

one of those day-time sleepers
his curiosity was aroused, like mine,
when a potential customer came in
greeting them with a winsome cry or a yawn—
he may have been too great a distraction—
at times, I think they came just to talk to him
the locals who rarely bought a book
even the travelers who’d been here before
and said “Where’s Marlowe?”
as soon as they were in the door

and now it grieves me to tell
poor Marlowe passed away

Cookbooks and self-help kept me going
children’s books and Christian CDs
I tried to upgrade
with Billy Collins and Leonard Cohen who sold quite well
but when I tried the plays of Shakespeare
(Ashland is just over the mountains from here)
Shakespeare didn’t move

Marlowe liked individuals who talked to him
and was scornful of crowds
one evening this winter, the pass was closed
and stranded motorists poured into the shop
a bookseller’s dream
the cash register sang while the town was covered in snow
it happens every few years—
just before closing, ghosts of the storm, they came
trailing cold air and breathing steam

when the commotion died down
and the last customer left
I found Marlowe under one of the tables
outstretched
looking up at me with a steady, reproachful air
as if to say: “You’ve no idea what I go through.”

I found him by the river
fourteen years ago, a starving kitten—
I didn’t think he had any cause to complain

“Your only concern is for your own comfort,” I told him.
“You don’t seem to care whether I prosper or not.”

I couldn’t read his mind or know his feelings
I hope he didn’t suffer—
Tomorrow, I will hang a sign on the door:

Christopher Marlowe died last week after a quiet life of contemplation among the books he loved but was unable to read since he was a cat—the most wonderful cat in Siskiyou county.”

 

Stuart Dodds

Red Bluff, California

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Standing at his mother’s side
at the teller’s window
he turned to survey the interior of the bank
a sun-filled rotunda
pictures of sailing ships, schooners, East Indiamen
in the crowded harbors of another time

playfully and dreamily
he leaned against his mother
(letting himself fall back against her)
as she conversed with the teller
smiling when she turned to rebuke him
in a language I couldn’t place

I imagine them as constant companions
he on the verge of adolescence
a boy who is sure of his mother’s adoration
with lustrous brown hair and dark eyes
and an openness and humor
that will soon be replaced
with defensiveness and evasion
as the father takes over
casting his shadow across their lives—
the sailing ships gone
the air turned cold
the blue ocean changed to stagnant water…

as mother and son left the bank together
he almost as tall as she
with a certainty in his walk
she linked arms with him
drawing him closer
and for the moment
he was her man, her knight

 

Stuart Dodds

 

 

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for Katharine

On a slow news day
or on a day when the community news pages
were driving me round the bend
I would go up and see Ralph on the editorial writers floor
or sometimes I would feel like flirting with him
he seemed too young to be writing the third editorial
(the first and second were reserved for local issues)
although he knew a lot more about world affairs than most of us
and wrote with an enviable flourish

he said if you wanted to trash someone, really take them apart
you had to read Cicero
especially the Second Philippic Against Antony
I said that wasn’t the most pressing need on my daily rounds
but I did admire Cicero
and I liked his commentaries on friendship and old age

at times I envied Ralph his job (the world was his playground)
as night city editor, I had more freedom
and I didn’t have the publisher breathing down my neck all the time
like those poor bastards on the fourth floor

Ralph called me once when the publisher left town
“If you want to come up, he’s gone for the rest of the day”
as if we were having an affair
what I liked about Ralph’s office, aside from Ralph,
was the superb air-conditioning on that floor
its carpeted serenity, its coolness
compared to the newsroom with fiberboard warrens and noisy fans
the fourth floor was The Sentinel’s hill station
and without Arthur, the publisher,
–a loud and overbearing creature–it was a divine place
I could talk to Ralph for hours if I had the time
which I never did

he’s not married, he’s single
which makes me wonder in a town like this…

returning to the newsroom
after our far-ranging discussions
I always had the sensation of coming back to earth—
on the wall above my desk is a sign that says: THINK LOCAL

 

Stuart Dodds

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We are in constant negotiations, he and I
he is the one that struts about
dealing with the world in his way
he takes his energy from me
and some of his ideas
and I can cut him off at any time
although it would be suicidal to do so
he is the doer and I am the dreamer
he thinks I am naive, out of touch
and I think he is a blockhead
all brawn and no brains

and there is, alas, another “I”
a darker, shadowy figure
draining energy from both of us
or replenishing it
whose features are clear in dreams if not in daylight
and sometimes even in dreams a presence only
a deceiver
who comes to us in all guises
whose power can be overwhelming
to call him an “I” would be setting limits
on a limitless creature
who ranges across land and sea like a dragon
and under the sea
who is formless and always changing
and has form too
miraculously human or bird-like
sometimes clothed and adorned
a He and sometimes a She

a camel-headed serpent of cobalt
struggling to free itself
from the Ming ceramic
quintessentially white
a carpet of thyme
a forest of kelp
in the silence of the deep

we live in the margins of this Other
(my active self and I)
fearing the chaos which is its element, a kind of ocean
and the beauty and naturalness that is also its element

we are at the seashore
facing the turmoil of the waves
there is a coolness in the air
and a risk we are called upon to take

 

Stuart Dodds

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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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