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An ars poetica

I remember the death, in Russia,

of postage stamps

like immense museum masterpieces


wrapped in linen, tea stained,

with hemp for strapping...

these colored stamps designed for foreign places

were even printed during famine—

so when they vanished, so did the whole

Soviet system:

the Berlin Wall, tanks from Afghanistan,

and Ceausescu’s bride before a firing squad.

It had begun with the character of Yuri Zhivago

in a frozen wilderness, the summer house

of his dead in-laws, his

pregnant mistress asleep

before the fireplace

with flames dancing around a broken chair, piano keys,

and the gardener’s long black underwear.

Lara lying there. A vulgar fat businessman

coming by sleigh to collect her for the dangers

of a near arctic escape...

But for Yuri, not that long ago, he was

with celebrity,

a young doctor publishing a thin volume

of poems in France, he was writing

now at a cold desk

poems against all experience

and for love of a woman buried

in moth-eaten furs on the floor—

while he wrote

wolves out along the green tree line

howled at him. The author of this novel,

Boris Pasternak, arranged it all. Stalin would

have liked to have killed him. But superstition kept him from it.

So, the daughter of Pasternak’s mistress eventually

is walking with a candle

through a prison basement—

she is stepping over acres of twisted corpses

hoping to locate her vanished mother ...

she thinks this reminds her of edging slowly

over the crust on a very deep snow, just a child who believes

she is about to be swallowed by the purity of it all,

like this write your new poems.

The Novel As Manuscript

Norman Dubie

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