John Reed, Yauzskaya Hospital, October 1920



The sisters are, like their brethren everywhere,

An amalgamation of gentle touch and soothing words

Delivered in sepia tones—Comrade, you will be up

And out of here before you know it—in such a way

As to convince you that they believe it to be true as well,

But I have made something of a living of interpreting the unsaid,

And what I have seen in a certain knitting of their eyebrows,

An occasional tightness around the throat, the set of the jaw

As the doctor studies my chart, and I suspect that this may be

The final station on my excursion, the last listing on the timetable;

Indeed, as I click off the inventory of my own person—the fever,

The unsightly and damning rash—I have come to the conclusion

That I may find the denouement of this particular tale

To be highly unsatisfactory reading.




I am at considerable leisure to think, reminisce, and even,

Though wholly without purpose, to dream.  On more than one occasion

I have drifted back to the train ride (I was headed to

The Congress of the Peoples of the East, not without some trepidation

I might add) which traversed almost all of Mother Russia,

From Murmansk to Baku.  Oh, there was any number of wonders

To be viewed through the windows—the broad, seemingly endless steppes,

The grandeur of the Urals and Caucasus

The wide, sluggish Irtysh—but there were other, unsettling,

Almost portentous views as well: villages, burnt and abandoned,

Cows and horses so thin their hides appeared almost threadbare,

Peasants of all ages whose eyes gave evidence of seeing such pain, hunger

And death that it was a wonder they could still stand upright,

Or, indeed, have the desire to do so.  We, conversely, rode,

If not in the lap of luxury, comfortably indeed—no shortage

Of coffee and vodka, even caviar on a more or less daily basis.

Finally, no longer able to contain several days of discontented thought

(I knew my outburst would be reported back to the Comintern)

I said to the Red Army captain sharing my compartment

That it seemed incongruous, if not counter-revolutionary,

To be overfed when the backbone of the proletariat

Was starving and dying before our eyes—that, surely,

There was something we could do.  As he walked from his seat

Toward the window, he smiled and said as he pulled them downward

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to pull the shades.





It is not only the odd, lazy syrup that time has become

Which I find so disaffecting—quarter-hours sometimes lag for eons,

While at other intervals days gallop two or three at a time,

Piling up like rows of dominos tapped by

A mischievous child—but the odd, disconcerting overlap

Of reality and hallucination (intellectually, I know they must occur,

A natural by-product of my fevers) which is becoming more difficult

To sort into the right piles.  I have often seen a grey-haired,

Somewhat stooped physician accompanied by a short, dark, plump colleague

(I have mentioned their rounds to the sisters, who assure me

That no such pair is on staff).  The elder often gestures wildly,

Speaking loudly with animated gestures, while the dark one

Nods occasionally, maintaining a certain reserve.  It was

Not long ago (a guess, obviously) that the older one stopped

By my bed, gave a stiff, almost courtly bow, and whispered

In my ear—Mi hijo, debe tener en cuenta que la verdad

Es la provincia de los constructores de los molinos de viento.





I suspect I am nearing the end of the book, as it were;

You notice small signs—the adjacent beds being placed

Slightly farther away, a certain distance (physical

And otherwise) on the part of the doctors and nurses.

Perhaps I will be buried in a place of honor, or perhaps

I will be thrown to the dogs like the Czar and his doomed progeny;

Likely it will depend on whatever mood the pig-eyed Zinoviev

Happens to be in on that particular day.  Either way, I suspect

That I will not buried with the truth.


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