Latest Forum Posts:

Categories

The Poetry Lesson

You are far too thin to survive these kinds of things.

The cell is pitch black except for two cones of stark light, One over a man wearing a sea-green single-breasted tunic, Breeches, polished jackboots, and a peaked cap, Sitting behind a metal desk, And the other over a naked man whose arms and legs are Chained to a four-legged chair with one leg missing.

"The Poetry Lesson"

(inspired by Osip Mandelstam’s “The Stalin Epigram”)

 

The cell is pitch black except for two cones of stark light,

One over a man wearing a sea-green single-breasted tunic,

Breeches, polished jackboots, and a peaked cap,

Sitting behind a metal desk,

And the other over a naked man whose arms and legs are

Chained to a four-legged chair with one leg missing.

 

First man: Name?

Second man: Mikhail.

FM: Mikhail what?

SM: Mikhail Staklinsky.

FM: Profession?

SM: Poet.

FM: You really ought to take better care of yourself.

        You are far too thin to survive these kinds of things.

SM: Everyone tells me I am too thin

        But there’s nothing I can do about it.

FM: Ahhh, yes … Do you know why you are here?

SM: (silence … The second man’s right earlobe has been cut off by a third man standing by him in the darkness and then the second man screams in short yelps becoming a piercing shriek and then a howl quickly dying down. The first man records the decibels and the duration of the scream in the appropriate column of the protocol.)

FM: Did you not hear my question? Maybe this will help you hear.

SM: I heard your question, but I wasn’t sure how to answer.

FM: Before we go on, here are some ground rules:

        One … answer my questions;

        Two … you may scream if you wish

                     but not while I’m talking.

        Simple, yes?

SM: Yes.

FM: Good, so why are you here?

SM: Is it because I wrote a poem uncomplimentary to our

        Comrade Leader?

The third man cut off the second man’s left earlobe. There is another scream, similar in decibels to the first scream but slightly shorter in duration.

FM: Ahhh, I almost forgot:

        Three … I ask the questions. You provide the answers.

        You may not answer a question with another question.

SM: I’m sorry … I didn’t know … I am here because

        I wrote a poem uncomplimentary to our Comrade Leader.

FM: Actually, not. Just between the two of us,

        It wasn’t a very good poem. I’ve seen far better.

        No, the reason you are here is to learn

        To write better poetry. It’s simple, really.

        By the time you leave us, you’ll be writing proper poetry.

 

        First Lesson: choose the subject. Given the times we’re in

        It should be full of pathos, but not pathetic,

        A tragic figure fit for an epic poem.

        You should try to come up with someone …

SM: (silence … The third man observes the first man’s cue and relishes snipping off the little finger of the second man’s left hand. The scream is different in key and nuance. The first man is a connoisseur of such things and the third man is a virtuoso.)

 

        The young boy lay in a pool of blood

        In the middle of the cobblestone road …

FM: No, no … too common. Try to be original.

SM: The old man and his wife stood on the open windowsill

        Holding hands as the door …

FM: No, no … an epic poem should inspire the reader.

SM: A naked man whose arms and legs

        Were chained to an unsteady chair …

FM: That might work.

        It’s always a good idea to write about

        Something you know.

 

        Second Lesson: choose a meter.

        I prefer the dactylic pentameter.

        Why don’t you try that in your poem?

SM: (silence … The left ring-finger is unceremoniously cut off. The scream is broadcast to the other cells in the basement. The third man pockets the ring.)

 

        A naked man with his arms and legs chained in a dreadful place,

       Fleeing his soul rides a stallion across open steppes freely

 

FM: Not bad … not bad at all.

 

        Third Lesson: choose a rhyming scheme.

        My favorite is the Pushkin sonnet, you know,

        A-b-A-b-C-C-d-d-E-f-f-E-g-g

       Why don’t you give it a try?

SM: (frantic silence as the first man searches the darkness for words that stave off his torture, that will hasten blessed death. His left middle finger twitches uncontrollably, knowing it will be next … He screams when it is cut off.)

 

       A naked man with his arms and legs chained in a dreadful place

       Fleeing his soul rides a stallion across open steppes freely

        Leaving his body to distant tormentors and death’s embrace

        His soul impervious to cutting no matter how deeply

        Death unlocks chains and receives us like prodigal warriors

        Honored by comrades, loved ones, and sprig bearing lauriers

        Torturers, what have they? Soulless they hopelessly wait for death

         Unloved as locusts descending in a field of shibboleth

         But maybe we do not differ so very much, you and I

         Neither of us should ever have been born into this world of pain

         Pain ergo sum, a faulty logic, so for whom is the gain?

         Comrade will dream he’s loved while I dream I am a butterfly,

         The bullet will come as an old friend but unexpectedly

         Promising to restore me to my former integrity.

 

After some time passed, the first man stood up, reached for his greatcoat, and joined the third man who had packed up his tools in a suitcase and waited by the door.

An indeterminate time later, two men entered the cell, picked up the chair with the second man still chained to it, and carried the man back to his cell, heaving the chair and man inside. The two men unchained the naked man and took the chair and chains with them, locking the cell behind them.

Death did not come to the naked man like an old friend that night.

It was destined for another cell.

 

                                                October 2, 2019

 

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright © 2010-2019 by Michael Stone

All rights reserved

No part of this content may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing.

Inquiries should be addressed to:
Mike Stone
email: mike.stone.email@gmail.com

To link to this story from your site - please use the following code:

<a href="https://www.storiesspace.com/stories/drama/-the-poetry-lesson-.aspx"> The Poetry Lesson </a>

You may also like...

Comments (0)

Tell us why

Please tell us why you think this story should be removed.

Reason