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HOME OF THE ARTIST

Susan Smith Nash

 

Rain streaming down a glass belly

my fear outstretches itself

at this figure of a bat sprawled in a window,

paned and impaled by day;

the surface is smooth, the history abrasive

like our guide’s voice:  “Welcome to Repin’s Home!”

and then, seeing my friend’s cell phone,

“You novii ruskii swine!  I wish I had a gun!

I would exterminate you like a rat! You and

all your foreigner friends!” 

 

But the only foreigner was me, trying to

downplay my Americanness, surrounded

by old uniforms, dried sweat, and mildew

rising up from the subjects of study after study --

Repin painting with a three-foot brush,

palette strapped to his waist – he, treating his failing eyes

carpal tunnel syndrom & trembling hands with defiance –

 

“I am the reincarnation of Peter the Great” he said,

and his self-portraits looked nothing like himself,

but Himself – he who pronounced all guests self-sufficient;

he sentenced those with aristocratic leanings in “the box”

where they defended their inability to mind themselves

and themselves alone.

 

The rain issued out from the night

like cloud after cloud of bats;

it froze me into my mind’s own window;

the guide’s rage spewed, my English consonants buzzed

like swarms of locusts coming over a holy land.

 

Last night, streaks of rain interrupted the window;

today, the pane interrupts the rain.

Transparent glass in the shape of a flying bat

is portraiture of memory itself;

glory, preservation, with identity-making

in spite of clarity and flight.  Yes, flying is a state of mind;

it is a reaching up, or an echo, it is a sounding

or a fearful shame –

 

Day and night

are so confused these days.