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portraits of red and grey #23 by James Morehead

July 3, 2011

portraits of red and grey #23

by James Morehead

it's time for our big deal

phil met a fur hat dealer
                                      raoul wants a rabbit cap and caviar
i come along for company
the trader meets us behind our hotel
at midnight
nervously smoking a frail russian cigarette
we give him a pack of marlboros

a cab appears from around the corner
and we crawl inside
cramped together in a rattling car
we fly through abandoned city streets
our new friend says his apartment is close
but we pass over the same canal three times
                                                                        ( the driver is boosting the fare )
cobble stones are replaced with asphalt and potholes
the marbled ornate spectacle is gone
streetlights are dark or smashed or flickering

we are silent to his doorway
our foreign english voices are easy targets
for keen ambitious ears

up a dusty stairwell
inside a grimy doorway
we drop our coats in his arms
and tiptoe past his sleeping mother
ducking into his close cramped room

he fills our hands with glasses
and a shot of vodka
we smile and clink and wince
in unison
he says he can only stay
in leningrad
if he lives with his mother
                                         ( there are not enough apartments )

he pulls out a box of wedding pictures
women he has married
                                      and later divorced
( for a small fee )
so they might enter the city

he shows off a shoebox
bulging with postcards and pictures and love letters
that somehow sneaked through soviet scrutiny
from young faraway tourists

he pulls out three black rabbit hats
we each grab one and run our fingers across smooth fur
raoul and phil barter with dollars
i just sit back and watch
the trader's eyes keen for a deal
his head haloed by an enormous american flag
draped on the wall above him

it is late and we tire
and our trader must go to work ( bottling pepsi )
he goes twice a week
                                    for two hours
and the government leaves him alone

our taxi meanders through leningrad streets
and we do not pass a car
as we wander in darkness

Next in portraits of red and grey…

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