Gf: Yuliya: Yuliya's Father's Cottage Poem by Brian Johnston

Gf: Yuliya: Yuliya's Father's Cottage

Rating: 5.0

The ride to the country is uneventful
Except that I feel a little like
A man riding inside a cannon ball.
Yuliya's father Igor drives
I'm also up front (the honored guest)
While Yuliya, her mom, and brother
Fill the back of the small station wagon
As we hurtle along roads unfamiliar to me.

There are fewer potholes than in Leningrad
And no pedestrians to be afraid for
Though Russian drivers seem not to care
(As if car ownership sets one apart) .
Spring is a lush green here as we leave
Flatter open spaces and fields near town
And enter a more rolling terrain
Forested by trees planted for lumber
With patches that are clear cut,
Like a crowd chopped down by machine guns.

The war relics and memorials that mark our passage
Remind us that this is a road won by Russian blood
And not man's sweat alone.
We leave the main road
And the pavement narrows, then disappears.
The car vibrates to the familiar corrugations
Of soft dirt sculpted by rubber tires.

We cross the bumpy trestle of a train
In a country village with a rustic platform
That signals a return to a simpler life
For commuters or holiday travelers.
The pavement returns briefly
And we stop at a small shop.
Bread, I discover, tastes better in the country.

Soon we leave even the dirt road for a trail
More passable to people than to cars.
Small cottages pass on both sides,
Some are tightly shuttered as if asleep,
Others sport a wisp of smoke from their chimneys
Or a colorful smile of clothing
Hung on a string between trees.
But one must drive slowly
For the road is not maintained
Except by the hands of those who live here,
This rural community it seems
Has no Public Works Department.

Before I'm ready, we have stopped
And I realize we are 'home.'
I like the little house at once,
It has no desire to be what it is not.
I imagine that it is winter -
How quickly would its rooms be warmed
By the simple wood burning range.

In a scene from a favorite Russian film -

Yuliya and I step from the troika
Alone like Zhivago and Laura.
The house is piled high with snow,
The horses' breath surrounds us like a cloud.
The little stove lights quickly and
Our bodies absorb its heat like a sponge.
Content, we pour the excess on each other...
And dream that we will be safe till Spring.

A picket fence surrounds the house,
Adds value to the yard it shields.
I've always liked a picket fence,
They have unique integrity -
A stranger always can look through
And can, of course, also be seen.
Still, such a fence handles the task
Of telling others where they stand.

Igor unlocks the gate
And as we open up the house
He moves the car inside.
The cottage has been newly purchased.
Igor is happy to have found it,
Proud that it belongs to him.
Yuliya and her brother Sergei
Are less excited, their friends are far away.

The building looks sound and has two heated rooms -
A kitchen and a living / sleeping room.
A glassed in porch affords some extra space
Especially for our spring time trip.
It has electric power and lights
And yet, conveniences are few.
The only water is an outside spigot
(Located near the door)
With a bench where dishes can be washed.
Water is stored indoors in milk cans
As water only flows during certain hours.
A wood burning stove is the only heat
Though a propane burner helps with the cooking.

The yard slopes down to a corner
Where Igor has parked the car.
This is also where the outhouse
And a small shed for storage are located.
A lean-to in back of the house
Holds split wood for the stove.

An orchard and a terraced yard reveal
Another gardener has loved this place
Though many of the plants,
Fruit trees, and shrubs need care,
A weeded patch of strawberries,
New flowers, and some cultivated shrubs
Suggest the family will be good stewards.
In speaking of the previous owner
Yuliya tells me in passing that
His children do not live in Russia,
And somehow this explains his absence.
Still I think kindly of the man
And hope another garden knows his touch.

We enter through the glassed-in porch
And I feel even more at ease,
Remembering that as a child
My own room once had been a porch
But there are even more windows here
With glass on all three sides.
Old curtain rods hang empty and
The room is flooded bright with light
(Although it's threatening to rain) .
But Vera quickly starts a fire
That takes the edge off of the day
And puts some water on for tea.
Simple things are important to Yuliya's mother.

The house has been vacant for awhile
And requires some 'sprucing up.'
We move some simple furniture outside
And Vera and I begin to sweep.
It brings me joy to lend a hand
Thus freeing Yuliya for her books
(She is studying for exams)
But Igor seems uncomfortable with this
(Perhaps it is that I'm a guest
Or maybe this is woman's work) ,
And asks me to accompany him
So we walk to a nearby lake.

We walk for almost half a mile
And pass quite a variety of homes.
There are summer homes both large and nice
And many much more basic ones
(Though none of them appear the same) .
It's surprising the community's so large
For there's no real shopping close at hand
And one must carry what one needs
From more distant towns when he comes
(For many people live away) .

As we emerge from a ravine
That once served as a road
The small lake stretches out before us.
Two men sit in their row boat fishing
Their rods as motionless as the day is still.
The lake bends lazily to the right
And vanishes behind a point of trees.
Even as we approach the lake,
The whole scene could be a painting
Hung on the wall of a vast museum
(Except for the ripples of a fish
That disappear long before they reach shore) .
Igor and I share my camera
Photographing each other
With a quiet reverence for this place
That would be no different
If we spoke the same language.

As we return we stop at a house
Which does not advertise itself at all
But serves as store and meeting place.
Its dusty shelves are nearly bare
And what we find of little use
But Igor meets someone he knows
And so we visit for a spell.

The cottage floors are mopped and clean
And fresh wildflowers decorate the table
When we arrive, Yuliya is at her books.
Igor sets out a cot and blanket for me
And I lay out in the yard for a while
Under a cold and cloudy sky
Snug in my blanket
Until it starts to rain.
I dash to get the cot inside
And Igor brings in the last few pieces
Of furniture from the yard.
As he brings in a primitive table
Whose legs and braces still look
Like the twigs they once were
(Though the bark is gone) ,
He says something to me in Russian
Which I don't understand
But his eyes joke about quality furniture
As he sets the table down with a bang.

Vera serves us a fine lunch of boiled pork,
Dark bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, and tea.
We listen to the rain fall on the roof
And pour out of the gutters into
One of two large barrels
Put there for this purpose.
It is a time for me to marvel,
To marvel at where I find myself
(How strange to feel so much at home
So far away from all I know) ,
To marvel at the generosity of friends.

Thursday, November 21, 2013
Topic(s) of this poem: Travel
Brian Johnston
A trip to the Russian countryside in 1990
Daniel Brick 30 June 2014

I enjoyed this poem the way I enjoy a passage in a book of memories or a travel journal or a collections essays. It really A Day in the Life of ____ -type composition, showing the differences between Russians and us but also celebrating (there is no more appropriate word!) the commonalities that make us all potential friends. I like the keen sense of a journey being taken that you convey - I enjoyed the details of contemporary Russian life and it made realize once again how much more stuff we have in our USA society but we are still like your hosts - a bunch of nuclear families making their way their life together, AND FISHERMEN ARE THE SAME THE WORLD OVER!

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Brian Johnston 27 December 2013

Dear Mike, I think you may have not given this poem its due with your 2nd comment although your first comment felt much more in tune with the poem. You will recall that you really liked my poem One Man's Miracle and gave it a 10. What I have only just realized myself, your lack-luster 2nd comment not withstanding, is that not only is this poem not simply a fluff piece, it is actually the spiritual parent of my poem One Man's Miracle. Compare the poems side by side and I think you may get that the two poems are almost identical. What you dismiss as a fleeting moment of a poet's reflective joy can also be seen as the ultimate insight, that experiencing God's Love can be found every day in the most simple of human interactions, even in the generosity of friends. Surely that is why you found the last 5 lines so heartwarming on your first read? !

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Mike Barrett 22 November 2013

Brian, I found this very descriptive so much so I felt myself there present in the unfolding story. I marveled at the last five lines a truly heartwarming ending to this saga. Thanks for sharing!

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