Written Broadly (Lines from a Helsinki Notebook)


Cafe Strindburg, Helsinki


Helsinki. April & snowing. I walked to the Strindberg Café for coffee.

I walked & counted my steps.

Down the wintry Esplanade I went

My footfalls muffled by snow.

I could hear my heart beating under the sweater.

“My heart,” I thought, “is gliding without me.”

The heart like a rich man in his sleigh…

(I was at step thirty; halfway to go…)

Just to amuse myself

I pictured my heart as the last Czar of Russia.

It was going to the opera–the grandeur of Boris Gudonov,

That terrible dance with death & the hands of a nightmare clock…the palace

Like a ship on the winter sea…the audience hushed, not a soul breathing…

& Chaliapin standing in a staged moonbeam,

Hands pressed to either side of his enormous head,

His twisted, bearded face raised to the wheeling, soulless stars.

That’s how it was. I would soon find the doors of the café.

Chaliapin saw the angel of winter, something at once cruel & beautiful as a swan

& reached for a low note, a gasp from the plates of the earth.