From WTP Vol. V #4
Meditations on Dear Petrov
By Susan Tepper
Set in nineteenth-century Russia during a time of war
My tiredness is extreme. Lord of the mercy. I kneel before an altar of water and salt. Such cold rooms. Making the sign of the cross. A broken chair. One by one into the fire. A single candle flickers. I have great need for arms yet none appear. Nor barren trees to represent the dead. Darkness from the mountain keeping flowers at bay. From the north where so little grows. Weeds. And the straying vines. Some lovely as dancing girls, tiny red berries woven through hair. Others wrench and curl as if to choke. Always upon me. I carry your compass of stone. Its needle a blood line. Instructing on which way to turn. Shadow collects on the door step. Again the north. This house placed all wrong. When you reach it can you feel the cold collecting. Around your ears. Throat. Under the muck of your boot soles. Worn out from war. Weary, dear Petrov, as I am. They seem inclined toward despair. Or is the compass stalking a missing conclusion. Perhaps anticipation. The fireside. Whisky. Love. That particular chime trills like a tall clock. Yet the halls feel heavy. Shot. Air from the chimney suckling dry. Mounting my horse for his warmth.
Questions remain unanswered. Through leaves and the seasons. Which sorrows reflect back. I stare into mottled glass my face uneven. As if toppled by surprise from an unruly boat. When will the wars be over. Tamping your pipe you pretend not to hear. When will the wars be over. Kneeling at your feet I pretend, too. You must know, dear Petrov. I stare at your sabre leaning on the wall. It’s a matter of tides you finally say. I gather my skirts and stand, drifting toward the window. Splintered glass from a beaker. Empty. Dear Petrov why is this here. Holding it up to a shaky sun. Filmed over, dirty. At the open window a sparrow nearly alights. Watching the beaker turn red to purple to blue in my hands. Does the sparrow know to avoid being torn. The sparrow I repeat. Asking if you would kindly leave the chair. Join me at the window. A breeze rustles the curtain. Soft. It’s nearly dusk. The summer’s end. I want one thing to show me what is happening. You stay in your chair suspended. I stay looking out. The all day moon grows darker at the bottom.
In the Folds
You ask why I wear white. To merge with the clouds on blue days. Comfort to a body cold as the snows. No breaking of silence. Just the fall of it. Frozen windows. The house contracts. I don’t say I wear white just for you. Turning back time a little while. To feel myself come alive again. That when you are gone I carry the end on my back. Head to toe. Dresses of coal and mourning. A black feather in my hat dusting the air. The birds will continue to sing. I sip my tea. Winter releases its dark horn. Time changes and changes, again. When finally your boots come stomping up my path. Reeking from blood. The stench of a thousand battles. Do you notice an odor, dear Petrov. The last was during the blooming sage. It is for you I rush to the wardrobe. Choosing the whitest day muslin. My white silk for nights beginning to darken. Shadows in the folds almost like dirt. A ribbon of white tied ‘round my waist. No flowers in winter. Remember. We are north-facing. Perhaps a bowl of sticks or gourds. The silken buds saved for my hair. Becoming the bride men fear to love.
Susan Tepper has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize, and once for a Pulitzer Prize for the novel. ‘Let’s Talk,’ her column at Black Heart Magazine, runs monthly. FIZZ, her reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, has been ongoing for eight years.