Ashok Niyogi


Remembering Riga railway station
In the afternoon slant of a lazy winter sun
Hazy unkempt trackside snow
The ochin priyatna with a silver toothed smile
Platforms move on
The clock ticks
As life passes death by
Tip-tapping on cobbled pathways
To the photogenic church
Under wired brassieres from the Department Store
Computer games for the child I estranged from you
Hotel heating makes private puddles around shoes
The snow geometrically separates leafless trees
Treacherous sidewalks are shrink wrapped with ice
I slip and clutch at you with my undernourished words
I snuggle in the warmth of your perfumed furs.

Do you remember
That moment in the car
The inching closer of palms
Frozen in November snow
Vladimir’s amused look in the rear-view mirror
Urchins at traffic lights
Swiping at windshields
Fighting snowflakes for rubles
I lean into you to take out my wallet
But the light changes
From red to green.

Remembering the mongrel that you mollified
Chamber music in an onion domed room
Live lobsters at forty dollars
Moving ever so slowly behind aquarium glass
Full-sized human corpses are cheaper

Peter the Great in a roadside stall outside
The summer garden all boarded up
And then the coming of the snow
The swan still prim
Strut the catwalk of the Nevsky canal
Poetry is still remembered in intoxicated basements
But European remont touches all
Except sea-gulls
Who still splatter bird shit on the Marina
Lenin is gone but Lenin looks on.

You remember Vodichka in the pocket of your mink
And Anastasia in the cleavage between your breasts
They are middle aged now
I have lost one more tooth
Age extracts painlessly
What I am today is so full of yesterday
And some imagined tomorrow in Acapulco
I do not understand constellations
And yet I dare tread galaxies
To earn my daily bread
While Vodichka and Anastasia snore on.

Remembered for sundry favors done
No memorable wars won
Just a cup of indifferent tea
Flea ridden biscuits
A wasp we call the honeybee
Servant quarters beside the playground
An amphitheatre that pretends to be round
In laboratories Joules twitch
Dead legs of deader frogs
The deadest climb the Hogg Market clock tower
Only to jump back
Into a black and yellow cab
Inbred aristocrats with aquiline noses
Fondle their poor aristocracy
Shadows move across St. Paul’s
Queues form at theatre square
The planetarium clock ticks on
I add two hours and a half
To reach your snow slide
Where children squeal in daylight saving time
I wait for your key
To turn the lock.

Remember when I sold trinkets on the Arbat
And opened half liter bottles of Vodka for the passerby
Roasted chestnuts in the winter heat
We had but to retreat.

Do you remember that mad season in the Moscow sun
Bare bodied children splashing into emerald lakes
Dachas verdant green and bricklayers at work
Cars with fuming radiators and red Arbuz
Plastic flotsam on the Moskva
Did we know that we float too?

Do you remember that windowpane on Leningradsky
That caught fire in the setting sun
Flowerless Petunias braving the thaw
Cracks on the Moskva ice
Promising one more season of life
Do you remember clutching at eternity
Have you quenched that fire now
Do you let the sunsets be
Do you see?

Do you remember our pilgrimage to Swan Lake
The eye-glasses the miniature martinis and the box
The afternoon slant of a pale spring sun
Across the tallest windows of the Hermitage
That lit up Monet and Manet
Do you remember the nakedness of Picasso
Trotters hanging from a kitchen ceiling
Gloomily smoked in the Petersburg smog
The cultivation of sun by Van Gogh.

Do the candles burn in St. Isaac
As they do on the river Don
Do you remember the babushka with the Azeri scarf
Begging for kopeks outside the Rostov church
Will she eat potatoes and cabbage for lunch?

Do you remember the story
About horses ruling the world
They got bored
With this ever growing population of Lilliputs
And went to sleep standing
One ankle crossed against the other
And then there came a day
When Dinosaurs returned to roost
Giant eggs cloned by Lilliputians
And burgers from McDonalds’
For take-away.

Fireworks on Victory Day
Dilapidated cripples
Three hundred ruble pensions
Medals drooping from emaciated chests
Powder-puffed ladies with drooping mustache lines
Ice-cream vendors
Gas-filled balloons
Wheelchairs donated by Germany
I climb your sofa
And reach for the window
To let the outside in
Do you remember the Diaspora of stars
I give you a solitaire
To keep the poverty away.

Those subway kiosks beneath Leninsky dua
Russian sparkling wine between TV bulletins
Matchmaking at a bus stop across the road
Do you remember those Lada rides
The cognac and cigar on one Saturday
And then the sitting in the park.

When I confront you with memories remember
My lap becomes an important place to sit on
Just as a Murano sits beside a Murano lamp
With an Anthurium in water all up lighted
But Dollars dwindle
And I don’t have the courage
To shoot myself in the head
I confront these empty pages
And every time
It’s personal you know
No Marx no Castro no Mao
Just Putin in the Kremlin
Symphonies when I snore.

You will show me how the geese land
On waters rippled by wind from the land
We have to go to Costco
Big cars small houses
Mexicans smoking cigarettes
Pool tables for the uninitiated
Bouncer laden discotheques
Bookshops with Nathaniel Hawthorne
Do you remember our Armenian brandy
At Sheremyetevo
Every time I go to come
I see you at the Irish shop.

Remembering Novosibirsk
The Yak-Sorak hip-hopped at Krasnoyarsk
The sky came lower down
It started to snow
I never thought I would miss Moscow
I was the only one in Intourist
Babushka zombies aimlessly trudge the slush
Red fox in a sly alley shop
Ulan Udey waiting for the trans-Siberian call
That never comes
Lenin wails as the wind picks up
I trade leather jackets for love.

Peppermint breath freezing in securitised air
The sun fighting cloud to let us climb up
Devyushkas zipped up in fake Nike
Lipstick over unbrushed teeth
Kalbasa all the way to Sochi
Four Seasons after that
The Polish accent of the Russian guide
Eighty years of Russian tuitions
Now imperialism injured in the spinal chord
Usine de chocolat in the by lanes of Vilnius
Do you remember my cottage here
Where the sea meets your palm tree.

I have never known you fret so
You with the hazel eyes of a silent pond
Unperturbed by the pebbles of life
Exits from subways into subways afresh
If only for an Outlet Mall
One more diet salad
To make me pulsate
Where are the rhymes of yesterday gone
An empty page shrieks at me
As I wash my dirty clothes
Do you remember my underwear
My ironed collars with wine driven hands
Do remember to let the hangover start
After my morning prayer.

I tried to keep you in my heart
Like a heart beat
Do you remember my anxious tears
When you vanished for one morning
Now eternity laughs at me
From the bottom of life’s swamp
I became an international tramp.

Do you remember sheer fear
Chechens and black haired monsters
Have guns
Half a pizza
Blown away in an afternoon Moscow Park
The aftermath
Of a country blown to bits
And then systematically pulverized
To fulfill our grand design
While Petersburg eats cabbage
Dipped in wine.

Wrinkled apples and shriveled breasts
Arthritic knees totter to a therapy show
Cucumbers for lunch garnished with kefir The blackness of the sea
Do you remember Sochi
Champagne breakfasts in Limasol
Furs for Mafia dolls
Eggs with seaweed garnish
Those were the days my friend
Firm breaststrokes into the sea
While I look on petrified
For my Muscovite.

Surgut is below sea level
Brand names in hot pants in a department store
Wooden frames with tomato patches
Corrugated tin on the airport roof
Pugachova on video
Do you remember
Our Moscow ‘dog show’.

Solzhenitsyn and I
We both rode the mayor’s bucket seat
His moment of glory
His time machine in Ustilimsk
With picnic baskets from Bratsk
In corridors of snow
Do you remember
Even one night with Vanya
Ivan Denisovitch
I remember the woodcutters’
I see ships even now on Nipponsky More
Carry your precious wood away.

Vologda is so full of mud
They should plant crops on the freeway
But where is the Vologda sun
Vodka and tea on a dark morning
The Samovar bubbles Vologda away
Animal skin oh so soft to the corns on my soul
When I lived with you
I used to pray
But I have to be in Vologda
As of yesterday
The snow has gorged on my cherries
I will dig for potatoes
Buried in minds of ice
I will write some morose nonsense
And drink the winter away.

I climbed Pushkin
To wipe the bird shit off his shoulders
In panic you bought me Louis Armstrong
To contain my madness
You make such fabulous walnut sauce
Smooth as the pebbles collected from Nakhodka beach
Do you remember the reach
Of the fisherman’s boat
Comrades singing away tonight
To bring in a smuggled tomorrow.

Ships at anchor in Vladivostok
The romance is in the Mayor and the kiosk
Broken down cars in the belly of night
Chinese chicken with Voronesh rice
Middle-class women peddling breasts
The trans-Siberian railroad
Looking desolate in the snow.

Wooden ships from a bygone age
Frozen on Baikal in jaded time
Icons of the Siberian bear
Back to civilization
Intourist Irkutsk with six-foot whores
Hair dyed an impossible white
One more customer
One kilo of beef for a fatherless child
While I worry
About my daughter’s GMAT score.

My ship waded through endless night into Murmansk
The Avrora crackling like furious skeletons on fire
Car headlights on daytime snow
Do you remember the upturned fish
On Ukrainian hooks
Tempered with Finnish vodka
Threadbare towels that pretend at the ice
Mustaches catch electricity and glow
I shiver and dream of summer in Kiev
I covet mosquitoes on a Voronesh ranch
One kilogram of prime ribs
Target shooting in tall grass
I am an ice-worm with twenty cats
But this winter there are no rats.

Do you remember the cleaner woman
Shout good morning to all and sundry
My first cigarette butt sizzles to death
Outside our window piled up with snow
One naked tree outside
Kiosks shiver open as do neon lights
Nevsky beer extra strong
You ‘build’ your face in window light
From snowflakes in the dawn.

From Vologda to Petersburg by sleeper train
Upper berth
Kalbasa downstairs
And the stench of autumn socks
Impossible bottle angles
Golden teeth and Moldovian wine
Cucumbers in vinegar and communist songs
Prisoner of my freedom
From across the world
Do you remember
That you live with souls
The rest is a narcotic
To earn our daily bread
We attempt to create wholes
And pass through each day
Tomorrow we will get the ‘vision’
Tomorrow we will see
Breasts touching arthritic knees
Golden teeth and calories
Cosmetic tennis in the afternoon
Let us be just
Let us adjust
To tram-car tracks that eat my tires
To blindness in the Spanish rain.

The autumn blows
Soon it will be time for pillows
For bats to hibernate
It is most inopportune now
For promises of tomorrow
On some anonymous subway staircase
Let us visit a tombstone
And ‘autumn clean’
Let us lean over our balcony
And say goodbye
To the watermelon stall.