In The Tribe’s first issue of the second semester, our very own creative writing sub-editor, Olia Kuranova, has written a poem inspired by an English module she took last semester. The Fires of 1812 is set in the beautiful but spoiled streets of Moscow, dating itself back to 1812 when Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops entered Moscow and were confronted with a burning city.

The Fires of 1812 mourns for Moscow’s writers and poets whose work and identities are buried beneath ‘newspaper shaped mountains’ – a subtle, quiet image which screams of a city’s neglect of its legendary legacy of art and literature which is crumbling into a state of dereliction in order to accommodate for the masses demand to understand Moscow’s politics, encased in the ‘sealed envelopes’ which are ‘passed hungrily across polished mahogany table-tops.’ The striking and unsettling images Olia portrays, such as the ‘Tolstoy’s’ and ‘Dostoyevskys’ of Moscow ‘on their knees, frostbitten hands outstretched’, depicts a more personal side to the defiant but blood-stained Moscow of 1812. The Fires of 1812 is a reflection on the politics of the self and the much bigger, but as equally complex, politics of the city.

 

The Fires of 1812

Strolling along the alleyways of my Kremlin,
Where purpose is by poetry disguised,
My cathedral domes are in history blood-drenched,
And last century’s architects breathe engraved in the buildings,
Of which silk shapes in my mind’s eye became quietly woven.
In my youthful ignorance I imagined
This very square ablaze in monstrous hue,
People scattered all along the Trans-Siberian,
Fires rising up behind me on the crimson valves
Of the heart of my city –
My nation, then uncorrupt, was tailored with poetic dignity
That dwarfs all material possessions:
For our Tolstoys and our Dostoyevskys
Would rather set fire to the wooden skins of their Moscow,
Than on their knees, frostbitten hands outstretched, deliver it to the French.

A decade later, I find myself seeking the self-same
Grandeur and seclusion of these scorched walls,
And in the procession of strangers I hear
A difference: timid and barely discernible-
As if their chords have become half a tone more sombre.
In a sea of book stands, the poetic combustions lining the streets,
I pause to find Pushkin replaced with newspaper shaped mountains:
Stories of torched cities, but not Moscow;
Of faces ablaze, but not ours and not with our city’s words;
Meetings behind closed doors, and elections
In sealed envelopes, passed hungrily across polished mahogany tabletops,
And the last breaths of poetry by rancid apathy silenced.

In this moment we look up:
To a blood clot of clouds, tempestuous over
War-stained cathedrals,
Opulence passed from the sly hands of one man to the other.
I realized none of this was truly mine anymore,
Not the rubies scattered in the pavements,
Or the history trickling down the museum columns,
Or even the glassy eyed faces of strangers, stripped of revolution,
Stripped of Tolstoy and the fires of 1812,
And of their tarnished beliefs and self, combined.

 

 

Olia Kuranova