So we placed fresh-cut flowers on every table,
stripped and remade the guest bed in case he stayed
the night, took out all the maps
and hid the calendars.
Pasternak called. He was coming to visit
our house of love up here on the hill.
And the calendars were maps of days.
We decided against hanging a banner
on the front porch
of welcome, wondered
if he’d lilt up the driveway, leaning to the left.
We dusted off Dr. Zhivago and retold stories about Lara
and laughed, sat on the porch the eve of his arrival.
Evening turned to night, we needed sledgehammers
to get to sleep, earplugs, water tanks—
It was after midnight and already we were eager
to prepare the coffee,
the bitter oils of Pasternak’s coming to town
rising, the map of days, the calendars, the house
of love, of not sleeping, of animal energy, red meat, blood
feeding my blood, cramps in my thighs,
I am dreaming
Pasternak was coming to town.
I scoured all the cookbooks, maps of the tongue,
what to prepare for Pasternak’s first meal?
We decided on blini served with rhubarb jam
imported from Poland,
but we could spare him the details.
We thought he’d like it here, could get a lot written
in the small green room on the second floor.
We wouldn’t bother him unless he sought our distraction,
then we’d walk to the weekend market, and up the hill
carrying herbs, tomatoes, beeswax candles, sunflowers.
By October he transformed the house—
Cyrillic letters began appearing, watermarks on our skin,
a linguistic rash spreading across our bellies, the insides
of our thighs, contagious
letters falling from our ears.
Boris rose before daybreak, swam at the pond
or soaked in a hot bath, then settled in at the oak desk
and wrote and walked and walked and wrote for hours.
He didn’t want to discuss Zhivago. We let it go.
Everything went seamlessly
until the third week of December
when he broke down.
We couldn’t get him out of bed. He was delirious:
Troikas, miles and miles of untouched snow.
He couldn’t get there from here;
he couldn’t even get there from there.
There was no there, no Russia, no boyhood, no winter;
no more troikas, Borya, we told him,
pressing cold, wet cloths to his forehead, his wrists.
But we had lost him to memory, and it was memory
that would undo him and do him in
on Christmas eve.
We made black tea,
sat on his bags for safekeeping, the journey
that lay before him back to a time and place
only death could resurrect.
We cried a little; he was an excellent house guest;
and how he loved the autumn here,
when like children we walked across the Common
those waning afternoons, stopping always at the balding
oak tree to gather up the leaves, stare up at the sky,
watch the clouds pass imperceptibly, mourning doves
sitting in stillness on the rough, uneven bark above.
Then he’d come out with something about fractals
and Euclidean geometry, explaining the cloud formations,
and we were convinced he was a genius, a poet, a scientist
in our midst.
We’d take his hands: Borya how we love you!
and he’d smile, fleetingly all there, all here.
And he never was here.
The winter came without his nostalgia though
the house was still
the house of love, the map of days still
on its rusty nail,
the seasons passing without his delight
while at night we kept up our custom
on the sleepless porch,
and mornings we pressed Arabian coffee
and once I dreamed Boris Pasternak was coming to visit.
The house was cleaner as a result but he never showed
and also he did.
We recited Pushkin together gleefully;
this made him weepy, and I fixed us tea,
I made blini, loved him for coming, loved him for dying,
his sleigh rides, his boyhood, our boyhood, this dream.