I have returned from my travels, and found, despite my earlier intention to write blog posts along the way, that posting by phone from hotel rooms was not something I could easily do. I have gathered some material which I will turn into posts over coming weeks, but for now I have composed this poem on my journey.
Late in life I went on a grand tour
Through the city treasures of Europe:
Their spires and bridges, tourist swarms on tiles
And cobblestones, the bells announcing hope
From the churches that survived socialist realism.
I stood on the ruins of a Phoenician trading post
Turned Moorish town, turned crusader castle,
Turned monument for Salazar, that guards
The enmazed streets Pessoa reselved,
Where I found at last this fragmented ghost
Who had waited for me in his unruly cabinet,
Afraid of madness and dissolved in drink.
I descended the road by Prazsky Hrad
Alongside ten thousand locusts
And stood with vertigo at the window
Where began the Thirty Years War.
I tumbled down and over the broken glass,
Past Rilke’s childhood afternoons,
Through Havel’s hearts and coffee haunts,
Into the trial I shared with K.
On a rainy Copenhagen morning,
I wandered down Stroget,
Ruined with branded shops,
Ate three pickled herrings in Nyhaven,
Yet knew myself to be
As much an outcast in pseudonyms
As the fabulist and seducer
This city spurned.
Onto Stockholm, where on the street
That remembers Olaf Palma’s mystery death,
And on the plaza facing the disgraced academy,
I saw the terror and banality that cities
Build walls to defend against.
I stood in the library in Uppsala
Where a young, rich libertine, Foucault,
Began a beautiful lie of madness and reason.
I circulated like Bely on Nevsky Prospekt,
Returned to Akhmatova’s apartment,
Stood in Brodsky’s study,
Returned from exile after death,
And stared, in an uncanny exhaustion,
At the desk where the tales
Of Alyosha and the Grand Inquisitor
Came into being.
Until at last, in the ancient capital,
Truly Europe’s Third Rome,
Still haunted by Lenin’s statues
And the Union of Soviet Writers,
I watched in Chisty Prud a reenactment
of impulsive Pushkin’s romantic duel;
And in the Archangel’s Cathedral imagined myself
A captive singer strangling my sovereign.
Image: Joseph Brodsky with the quotation “I sit in the dark. And it would be hard to figure out which is worse: the dark inside or the darkness out.”