From Susan Paddon's first collection of poetry, Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths (Brick Books).
When the uniformed men arrived at the white house in Yalta, stomped their boots on the porch overlooking the flowering fig and quince, Maria Chekhova was already three days hungry. With her brother now long gone, she’d hired a girl to stay by her side in the raids. And there was even less food to go around with the incessant mewing of cats by the door. Maria gave the intruders rules upon entry. Mostly they did as they were told. They washed their hands after using the toilet, stubbed out their cigarettes in broken clay pots and picked the horse shit from their boots with sticks from the garden before coming inside. She was lucky. Everybody had heard what had happened to Dostoyevsky’s house. The looting would always go on for a period. They often took even more than her stale supplies. Shots rang out in the night, broke windows and whispered a kind of violence. But not the bandits, nor the anti-Bolsheviks, nor the Whites would go into his room. When it happened again with the Germans, she had a few days to prepare the house. She hung Goethe where Gorky had been, set out photos of the dachshunds, and German translations of her brother’s work.* What I know of war is a certain kind of prison. Maria couldn’t get the words out of her head. I too am like a prisoner. But what is this prisoner like? --- *I am indebted to W.D. Wetherell and how he imagined Maria’s response to the German invasion of the house.
This is the second of five poems in a series dedicated to Maria Chekhov. Read the third poem, Easter Day.