Michael Shepherd

Rookie (8.4.1929 / Marton, Lancashire)

0299 Customs And Excise - Poem by Michael Shepherd

The postman who never looks me in the face
(was it something the garlic said?)
has just delivered a parcel
heavy with history

and I’m left holding it and wondering
what I’m holding

In 1972 Marina Vlady, the film actress
who had found favour with the
appropriate authorities
was handed a suitcase at Moscow’s
Sheremetevo Airport by the poet
Yeveny Yevtushenko; it contained
in its 15 kilograms of manuscript,
the lifeblood of 245 Russian poets

It took until 1993 for this to be published;
my –(how can I dare to call it my) –
Russian-red-covered,1078-page copy
of this great event, this blood transfusion of poetry,
entered Brooklyn Public Library
on November 12,1993
only to be removed from the shelf
on February 12,1996
scrawled ‘mutilated’ and stamped
‘withdrawn from free use in
city cultural welfare institutions…’

all because some reader (some émigré
rediscovering his own ‘mutilated’ culture
‘withdrawn from free use’,
in the winter warmth of
Brooklyn Public Library?)
has pencilled an implied question or two by underlining
the translation of ‘My Leafless Maple Tree’
by the universally beloved Sergey Yesinin
and offered an alternative word
in shaky English which looks more like Cyrillic,
in the comment ‘he diverted himself with heavy drinking’,
for the word ‘diverted’…

now I notice also on this page 290
headed ‘Children of the Golden Age’
a small dampness which could be a tear.

Comments about 0299 Customs And Excise by Michael Shepherd

  • (5/5/2006 7:51:00 AM)

    Our poor mutilated culture... Tears are still being shed. Thank you for sharing this piece of our history. I am deeply moved by the way you feel our pain as strongly as your own. Julia (Report) Reply

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  • (4/26/2006 7:03:00 PM)

    Dear Michael:

    A tremendously touching poem, here. Fine writing, excellent points and a searing comment on the pettiness of small time bureaucrats/librarians who would pull a treasure from the shelf for such a small display of concern as a pencil written correction from a Russian speaker. The final stanza is priceless and really seals the power of this story with quiet emotion. All tragedies should be mourned.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Poem Edited: Saturday, July 15, 2006

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