“What can you tell me about Anna Akhmatova?” I asked my mother
as she peeled beets in the kitchen, the red bits falling
from her fingers like petals.
“She was popular when I was young,” she told me, hands fumbling
with the knife.
“I couldn’t read much of her before I left Russia
because they called her anti-Stalin, but I heard of her often.”
“Was she censored?” I asked,
and she nodded, scraping the beets
into a big metal pan full of water
and placing it on the stove. “They banned anything they didn’t like,
and they really didn’t like her. Prohibited her writing for years, and killed
her husband, another poet.”
She turned to me as the stove heated up.
“It’s a shame. I only found out afterwards
how beautiful her poetry was. She had
this one, ‘Requiem’, that the government hated most.” A hissing rose
from the pot atop the stove,
a wild shrieking and foaming, like some rabid tongue was trapped
beneath that lid, rioting against it. But she turned a knob
and the sound slowed, dimmed to silence.
She dipped a ladle in and filled a bowl with soup.
“It ended with her asking to have her memorial built
not by the ocean or in nature, but instead
in the prison where she spent so many days.
And she describes the thawing ice
streaming from her bronze eyelids, and birds
singing as ships pass down the river. It’s utterly beautiful.”
She walked to the table and set my bowl down. As she walked from it, I saw
her hands were red, her palms dark and flushed
with beetstains; and for a second, it looked like her fingers
were bleeding, splattered with the stains
of that horrid, dangerous act