Where Dedushka Comes From

by Gerald Smith

From the bird’s head of Azerbaijan to
feathered Caucasian mountains. From October 1917.
From the years that followed. From the oil fields
your father owned. From those fields he lost.
From desert and steppe. From the place where
fire jumps out of rocks. From a country which
has not been a country for a very long time.
From the Black Sea’s sand to Monaco’s diamond beaches,
from black stones among snow dunes to a rich fertile soil.
From a wagon carrying your family except your father and you
to a villa and a chauffeur. From black to blue.
From White to cleaner White to White who had to hide.
Not from Red. Never from Red. Running from Red.
This has always been a retreat, hasn’t it? You,
a man expelled by a coup. Man always running, man always afraid.
Bug-eyed man, taller man, man appears a bear, tall laughing man,
never sad man, never shown sad man, keep on walking man past
the casino on the holiday and past la Côte d’Azur, past his mother
with nostalgic gaze, his sisters with men of the new country, not the old,
past the witches’ fingers by sea foam. This game of cache-cache
never gets old; it’s always been so old.
From the East to the Midi, to the West? From Paris,
from Amsterdam. From your family, is that what you ran from?
From the constant letters, from the gatherings of those too close.
From Sister Katcha. From your father’s last letter? From scoldings
grandmother gave you. From your father’s cough. From the blood
in his hand. From the tartar tent he stayed in as you were told
to play outside in the snow. From Sacha and Rosita
and eyes looking up and mouths always moving.
From your daughter’s stare, her tongue trying to touch upon
the sayings only you knew. Where to go?
Where to run and where to hide?
Old man, Father Time speaking French with a Slavic accent,
they weren’t the ones who followed you. It was just me,
chasing you through the tunnels of my mother’s stories
and this labyrinth of letters left. I cannot pin you, bear of a man.
I cannot make you into anyone. You are not a language nor a country.
You, a citizen of no land, am I too from nowhere?
You’re nothing I know, every secret I want to hear
retold and retold until it dries out like a bear’s bones.