Valorie Grace Hallinan
I recently left my day job to steep myself in writing poetry and memoir. A former book editor and medical librarian, I believe books can save a life and founded a blog by that name. My work has appeared in Great Lakes Review and other small publications. Places near and far, exotic and mundane, inspire my poetry. "Nadezhda..." came to me when I was in Wegmans grocery store reading a memoir by Osip Mandelstam's wife.
Nadezhda, If You Were Here
And why do you think you should be happy?
-Osip Mandelstam, to his wife
I read of your life this afternoon and can’t forget
as my cart and I glide past copper and silver coffee bins:
raspberry hazelnut, Vermont maple crunch, crème brûlée,
super chocolate supreme chocolate truffle.
You had tea when you could get it,
a few turnips, some dough you’d fry him for supper.
He wrote into the night while you copied, memorized, sewed
poems into pillows, hid them in saucepans and shoes.
You clung together in the dark, listened for steps in the stairwell,
the elevator stopping at your floor. What if
you were here, a dumbfounded
shadow gaping at wheels and wedges of Pecorino Romano, baby Swiss,
Provence Brie wrapped in chestnut leaves?
Would we listen to an old woman in a threadbare coat and babushka?
You’d sit on a Catalina lawn chair (guaranteed not to rust)
sip iced tea from a plastic mug (dishwasher safe)
filled with polyethylene ice cubes shaped like lemon slices.
We’d gather ‘round the sale-priced patio tables and snack on
tiger shrimp stir fry in little paper cups.
Osip wrote a poem about Stalin, you’d say.
They made him write another and then they took him away.
I waited with the other wives, sold our books to buy him a basket of food,
but they sent it back marked ‘addressee dead.’
The people starved on gruel they said was art
while I, banished to a dozen cities, carried my husband’s words in my suitcase,
doled them out like contraband. For thirty years
I lived for this.
Otherwise, I’d rather have died right off like the rest.
Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t perfect.
I belonged to him, he said, as if we were one.
He hated my cooking.
He was unfaithful.
He wouldn’t have lived long anyway, his heart was bad.
In the silence after your words you might look at us and ask,
What is it that you live for?
Tell me your stories.
Credit: "Nadezhda, If You Were Here" was previously published in Great Lakes Review.
©2015 Valorie Grace Hallinan