Marsha Blitzer has published poems in The American Journal of Poetry and 166 Palms. An alumna of Sarah Lawrence, she completed the coursework for a Ph.D. in Russian Literature and Linguistics from Georgetown and holds a J.D. and a M.S. in Education. She has practiced law in Moscow and London and now lives with her husband in Tucson, Arizona.
My tongue melted into wild sturgeon caviar,
large, black pearls—salt, velvet.
I long for the vodka, swallowing fire.
We ate Beluga
from the Georgian market.
It came in glass, the size of
a Skippy peanut butter jar.
We ate it by the spoonful
for breakfast, even my two-year old.
They say a musical ear will hear
the cat’s purr of prized
fish eggs rubbing against
1. The Stalin Years
Mandelstam died in transit. Those who made it
did hard labor—
felling stands of pine,
silver and white birch, long logs encased
in white, peeling bark.
They clawed bark, unfurling it to the cambium
on through into the phloem, shoveled the soft,
moist red into their mouths.
They swallowed fistfuls of toadstools, milk-
caps, and brittlegills, tore off clumps of moss.
If caught, they were shot.
Once spring came sap began to rise—
birches wept in Siberia.
2. Winter 1995
Giddy foreign investors hopped on the run-down
Tupolev at Domodedovo to get to the conference
in Novosibirsk. It was only a short haul.
The flight crew set out folding chairs in the aisles,
squirted disinfectant into the air to mask the aroma
When we landed, like Emma Peel from The Avengers,
I was escorted to a bulletproof car. A corporate
lawyer on a rainmaking mission, I was hunting for naïve
businessmen out to make a buck in the ex-
Soviet Union. I lavished them with vodka and caviar,
assuring them that the Mafiosi wouldn’t taint their deals.
Speaking at the conference I touted capitalism,
a promise of the Wild West. After the last ceremonial meal,
I went to bed in my coat, baseball bat by my side,
chair wedged at the door.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There, silver birch has knotty bark, white with black
streaks, smells of wintergreen. Birch tar is
said to cure stubborn wounds.
In the moonlit night, a blistering wind. Willow warblers
nested, whistling a repetitive, descending dirge.
Snow buntings hid in the grass.
In the windowless banya at a friend’s dacha near
Moscow, we drank straight vodka. Marina’s aria
from Boris Godunov filtered through a speaker.
I beat myself with bundles of young birch,
swept myself, as with a broom.
To cool, I ran outside, rubbed myself in a snowdrift.
Russians say a person is reborn in the banya.
Our rooftops were smothered in snow. Freeze and
thaw, freeze and thaw.
Through the living room picture window:
water trickled off the eaves. Tiny pendent drops
grew into shells sheathed in skins of ice.
The icicles thickened, lengthened downward
to dagger point.
Some hung in clusters.
When one released its grip, crashed, shattered,
the others followed.
I wished I could glue them back on.
Pedestrians scurried past buildings constructed in the 30s.
Heat leaked through poor insulation,
melted rooftop snow.
Menacing shanks of ice soldered together by frost.
On thaw days Moscovites knew to hold something
above their heads.
One night a three-foot falling icicle impaled our car. My son
cried. Through his sobs was intelligible the word