Blocks of gray buildings in Tyoplyi Stan
a windy suburb in the southwest of Moscow
where Napoleon’s army used to burn fires to try
to survive the Russian winter of 1812.
Three phone booths by the wall
surrounded by snow
a few anorexic trees on the road
leading to the liquor store, post office, and a grocery
with meatballs for seven kopecks, milk, and anchovies in tomato sauce.
Bus stop with drunken men falling out of buses
scattering their money and other possessions
on the dirty sidewalk every Soviet holiday
and once in a while a Good Samaritan
trying to get one of the completely plastered
back to the bus so that he won’t freeze to death.
My four-year-old, blue-eyed son, Sasha
on the way from his kindergarten
is getting compliments from an old woman on the bus.
She is telling him he looks like baby Lenin
and gives him a ripe, yellow pear
that it took her no less than an hour in line to get.
And he is asking his dad about the meaning of numbers
on the front of the bus.
Eventually, he gets it, that they are meant for directions
but says to his father that buses running in Africa have no numbers
because negroes are not yet human.
I am petrified, a drunk man says to him, “That’s right, sonny, that’s right.”
The road leads to our home—in one of the identical buildings
in the second “micro-region” of Tyoplyi Stan.
Most of the year, the road is dirty and wet,
which creates problems for Sasha when he begins school—he often falls
into one of the holes,
scrapes his knees and tears his school uniform,
which is next to tragic
because the label on the pants says the fabric is not washable,
and dry cleaning in so-called French cleaners takes two to three weeks.
Sasha gives me a gift on March Eighth, the International Women’s Day–
a fake malachite brooch he bought for one ruble
he won in the lottery
and a card made of the French laundry ticket with a Lenin pin
pinned to pink paper.
VILNIUS—DOES IT EXIST?
inspired by “To Go to Lvov” by Adam Zagayewski
When I walk the streets of Vilnius
I search for daydreams
for what’s no longer
not for Proust’s madeleines
but for my mother in her blue
making strawberry jam
in the kitchen
I’m tasting the pink foam from a spoon.
Windows open into the courtyard
with old storage sheds
no foreign or any cars parked there.
The Tolerance Museum is still a movie theater
the city had more movie theaters then
than open churches.
Our neighbor, a theater seamstress,
is making a plaid pleated dress for me
on her foot-pedaled Singer machine
Father playing chess until dawn with
Sinioras, the journalist from
Literatura ir menas.
At the park across the street from
Kronika old women in babushkas
sell bouquets of blue cornflowers
and blood red and purple mums.
It’s July and dry shells with seeds
are already covering paths
between old linden trees.
I am still fourteen
we have not moved to Antakalnis yet
from the tiny apartment on Pylimo
but now we have a gas-heated
a new tub installed by my parents.
Last year when I’d shown the house
where I grew up to my son
a man in a wifebeater was stripping
the floors in my parents’ living room
the view of old Vilnius from the seamstress’s
little room was as magical as it was
when I was six
the door to the bathroom was open
and the old gas heater installed by my parents
was still there
ON THE EAST COAST TRAIN
Everything here is on a smaller scale–
wet English sky
brown houses with pointed, thatched roofs
grass in late November still tourmaline green.
Modestly rounded hills
small towns at a dignified distance from one another
once in a while, an old brick church in between.
I have lived in the country of oversized highways
apples and cockroaches
now over a half of my life.
Still, a European scale landscape
feels more calming–
comforting, if I may.
Trains are quiet
but the view of an old bridge
we are passing by
and defunct rails with small bushes and grasses
growing on them generates
an olfactory hallucination
from the past.
The smell of burning coal
in a train
making loud, rhythmic sounds–
wheels hitting the rails
and long whistles that sound
like a hungry calf calling its mom.
Anna Halberstadt has published many works in the field of psychology but has found poetry to be a more adequate and condensed way to expand on the same themes—growing up as a child of Holocaust survivors in a country still struggling with past trauma, living in three countries (Lithuania, Russia, U.S.), and immigration. She was a finalist in the 2013 Mudfish poetry contest. Her creative work has been published by <em “mso-bidi-font-style:=”” normal”=””>Amarillo Bay, Alembic, Atlanta Review, Bluestem. Cimarron Review, Forge, Good Men Project, Hawaii Pacific Review, Mudfish, St. Petersburg Review, Permafrost, Crack the Spine, Rio Grande Review, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual and Tiferet, and translations of her poems in the Lithuanian journals Literatūra Ir Menas and Šiaurės Atėnai. Her poetry in Russian was published in the international anthology “Nash Krym” (KRiK, New York) in the winter 2014. Her collection of poetry “Vilnius Diary”was published in the Mudfish Individual Poet Series, Box Turtle Press, in the summer 2014. Poem “I Was Reborn” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2014 by the Mudfish journal.