Ode to Lenin's Overcoat

In every Russian city or town a statue of Lenin stands
on a central square with his overcoat blown back
as if by a cold wind from Siberia as he strides into the Future
with a capital "F." And then there's the body on display
in the Kremlin, looking like nothing so much as a diplomat
or a prosperous businessman in a dark suit,
though he planted the bomb that would blow a hole
the size of Asia in the twentieth century,
and it was said that all he cared about besides the revolution
was Beethoven and chess, the Appassionata
wringing his heart as the four beautiful grand duchesses
could not. We've all met those true believers
who make you glad you're not the smartest person in the room
because you wouldn't want to live with their hearts
thumping in your chest, especially after the mass executions,
and let's face it, you'd be in the gulag at best
or shot against a basement wall for all your sins,
which are words all emerald and scarlet,
shimmering like cheap Christmas trash in drugstore aisles,
though they might as well be sewn into the seams
of your corset if you wore one, and maybe the czar
was out of touch, but the Bolsheviks,
Mein Gott in Himmel, or whatever it is the Russians say.
Then there was Stalin, but I'm getting ahead
of myself, as was Gogol when he wrote the ending of his story,
in which the dead clerk, who'd had his new overcoat stolen,
comes back as a spectre on a freezing night and grabs the judge
who wouldn't help him in life, demands his fur coat,
which the judge, turning white, gives up with a scream,
jumps in his coach, and speeds away, trembling
like a toy poodle, while the dead clerk pulls the collar
around his neck, warm at last in the Arctic night.
In Gogol's story he still haunts St. Petersberg, but it can't be
the timid clerk, for this phantom is tall, has moustaches
and giant hands that look as if they could strangle the czar
and all his guards, send Mandelstam to his gulag
and sentence a man to death for a crime that in his dreams
he would wake from screaming like the conscript
as a bullet pierces his chest, knowing he will never hear
his mother's voice again or have sex with his Sonya
or even eat a hot meal, the butter on a piece of black bread
dipped in soup swimming with meat and potatoes,
because he's lying in the dirty snow crying as he had
when his father beat him until he whimpered
like a dog on the kitchen floor, his mother already there.

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