Poetry Sunday: Letter to a Lost Friend
You know how sometimes when you read a bit of poetry it speaks to you, resonates with a chord deep within your psyche, in ways that you may not even be able to verbalize? So it was when I read "Letter to a Lost Friend" in Poetry Magazine this month. I can't explain just why it moves me, but it does.
Letter to a Lost Friend
There must be a Russian word to describe what has happened
between us, like ostyt, which can be used
for a cup of tea that is too hot, but after you walk to the next room,
and return, it is too cool; or perekhotet,
which is to want something so much over months
and even years that when you get it, you have lost
the desire. Pushkin said, when he saw his portrait by Kiprensky,
“It is like looking into a mirror, but one that flatters me.”
What is the word for someone who looks into her friend’s face
and sees once smooth skin gone like a train that has left
the station in Petersburg with its wide avenues and nights
at the Stray Dog Cafe, sex with the wrong men,
who looked so right by candlelight, when everyone was young
and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, painted or wrote
all night but nothing good, drank too much vodka, and woke
in the painful daylight with skin like fresh cream, books
everywhere, Lorca on Gogol, Tolstoy under Madame de Sévigné,
so that now, on a train in the taiga of Siberia,
I see what she sees — all my books alphabetized and on shelves,
feet misshapen, hands ribbed with raised veins,
neck crumpled like last week’s newspaper, while her friends
are young, their skin pimply and eyes bright as puppies’,
and who can blame her, for how lucky we are to be loved
for even a moment, though I can’t help but feel like Pushkin,
a rough ball of lead lodged in his gut, looking at his books
and saying, “Goodbye, my dear friends,” as those volumes
close and turn back into oblong blocks, dust clouding
the gold leaf that once shimmered on their spines.
Source: Poetry (January 2013).
If love lasts only for a moment, it was worth it. It's something that poets know and that they teach us through their art.