This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 670,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We Met in Sevastopol

Sevastopol (Ukrainian: Севастополь) is a port city in Ukraine, located on the Black Sea coast of the Crimea peninsula. It has a population of 342,451. The city, formerly the home of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, is now a Ukrainian naval base mutually used by the Ukrainian Navy and Russian Navy. One of the most notable events involving the city is the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855) carried out by the British, French, Sardinian, and Turkish troops during the Crimean War, which lasted for 11 months. Despite its efforts, the Russian army had to leave its stronghold and evacuate over a pontoon bridge to the north shore of the inlet. The Russians had to sink their entire fleet to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy and at the same time to block the entrance of the Western ships into the inlet. When the enemy troops entered Sevastopol, they were faced with the ruins of a formerly glorious city.

We Met in Sevastopol
For Nika Levikov

We meet in Sevastopol
I discuss the politics of the place
while she talks about zoology
and a recent trip to Israel
I relate details of Dublin
to sound more worldly than I am

somewhere beneath the heavy jazz
and the lingering cigarette smoke
she takes my friend’s hand
and they dance hip-hop and salsa
to a song foreign to their footsteps
somewhere above,
Celia Cruz, Miles Davis,
and Saul Williams’ dead emcee
meet for the first time
smile and wonder why
they never met before
while down below
she ties my tongue with questions
I used to easily evade like a matador
but her horns clip my cape
and waking up in the ICU
I ask how she got so close so quickly
punched a hole in my chest
where my heart should be
I thought the cage I built around it
was impervious to impetuous inquisitors
but tin isn’t steel
and bruises with every beat

outside, I tell her tales
of peaches and breakfast cereal
to demonstrate that my grasp of romance
matches my skill in the kitchen:
wildly, absurdly reckless
and likely to leave bystanders sick

we pass letters of light
brief and instant
across the miles between us
condensing thoughts into seventeen syllables
and I still can’t say it right

“I like you but I
have no idea what I’m doing
please forgive me”

yet all the moments and words
seem right somehow
despite all my
stumbling awkwardly perfectly
toward wherever we’re meant to be:
friends or lovers
or poetic equals or forever strangers
or somewhere in between
and somewhere above,
Anaïs Nin, Anne Sexton,
and Simone de Beauvoir
meet for the first time,
smile and wonder
in whose footsteps she’ll follow me

from Sevastopol, she visits my city
the desert gallery soaking her to the bone
we traipse to Guadalajara suburbs
then travel to Chengdu
trading stories the way penpals trade letters
and I taste our future in the sweet and sour
on a mountain top freezing in the night air,
we search for Pluto among the stars
knowing they found it right here decades ago
I head home with my foolishness
as the only passenger

she visits when times are slow
and she needs someone to fill her loneliness
I bite my lip with the anticipatory heart-skipping pulse
of seeing her
of sharing poetry and stories
but bite my tongue near her
I need a smaller mirror or flexible camera lens
to see what’s written between tastebuds
it’s scrawled in Russian
but I forgot how to read Cyrillic alphabets
when my paternal bloodline said farewell
to the Ukrainian-Polish border
I would ask her to translate
but “you can’t say what you feel”
can only be read by her kiss
“you don’t know what you feel”
can only be read by her eyes on a page
and to ask her answer one way or another
would only ruin it all
it’s a fifty-fifty chance that I can’t afford to lose

this paradox of Russia has doomed men in uniform
since Napoleon visited Moscow
during the tourist off-season
with a million spring-breakers in tow
and a hundred years later when Hitler did the same
they both brought back postcards of dead boys my age
frozen in the snow
and the wisdom that a land war in Asia
only leads to failure in Risk

she hooks me like a fish
right through the lip
so that my words spill out sloppy
and any tricks I might use to move her
one way or another
only tear my skin wide open
so I just follow in her footsteps
try to lead her where’s she likely to follow
hope that her pet puppy remembers
the friendly familiarity of my scent
longing to treat her life kindly
bring along enough water to quench her thirst

somewhere in Sevastopol
echoes etched into brick walls
remember that on one Saturday during the siege
her great-great-grandfather and mine
saluted Nakhimov side-by-side
after hers returned from Shabbat
and before mine went to Mass
stood side-by-side bearing polished Warsaw muskets
that would fail to stop the citadel from falling
in the night, in the cold,
they shared Cossack and gypsy fiddle tunes
while watching Raglan’s troops shiver in the dark
and the scuttled Black Sea fleet sink into the harbor

two centuries later
I find the same ambiguity between us
as the muddled history between
Tatar, Ukrainian, Russian, Krymchak and Karaite
who can all call Eduard Bagritsky,
Taras Shevchenko and Hayim Bialik their poets
Leon Trotsky or Moshe Dayan their generals
make them their patriots
depending on context

I don’t know what to make of her
ally, lover, friend or stranger
but the poetry between us binds us
Anton Chekhov, Isaac Asimov,
and Vladimir Nabokov
meet for the first time
smile and wonder
in whose footsteps I’ll follow her
and through the haze I see her near
somewhere in Sevastopol
in the shadows of our fathers’ fathers tombs
beneath the dates that bookended their lives
in the whispers the grass
the answer lies
but Cyrillic is not my native script
so I must stumble onward
take note of the shape of characters
and play the cards she deals
wondering myself
if somewhere above
she and I will meet again
like it’s the first time
then smile and wonder
why it took so long
to learn who we were
meant to become


ATrueNorseman said...

ha, thought you were a different poet i knew, to whom I was going to say, "Wow, you've improved a lot!" :D

but, I recognize you now! heh heh.
Great work, love the beginning A LOT! very well written and is full of great little nuances, which i'm addicted to. Some of the love stuff seems cliche or filler, but then there comes a stanza that blows my mind and i get re-hooked (fav: S1 S2 S3 and S7)

Art-tin said...

Although im no expert in poetry and nor do i really understand what the poem is really about ^^;, It feels like areally good poem and flows really nicely...Great work :D

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