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John Balaban: Anna Akhmatova Spends the Night on Miami Beach

Well, her book, anyway.  The Kunitz volume

left lying on a bench, the pages

a bit puffy by morning, flushed with dew, 

riffled by sea breeze, scratchy with sand

–the paperback with the 1930’s photo

showing her in spangled caftan, its back cover

calling her “star of the St. Petersburg circle

of Pasternak, Mandelstam, and Blok, 

surviving the Revolution and two World Wars.”

So she’d been through worse…

the months outside Lefortovo prison 

waiting for a son who was already dead, watching

women stagger and reel with news of executions,

one mother asking, “Can you write about this?” 

Akhmatova thinking, then answering, “Yes.”    


If music lured her off the sandy bench

to the clubs where men were kissing

être outré wouldn’t have concerned her much

nor the vamps shashaying in leather. 

Decadence amid art deco fit nicely

with her black dress, chopped hair, Chanel cap.

What killed her was the talk, the empty eyes,

which made her long for the one person in ten thousand

who could say her name, who could take her home, 

giving her a place between Auden and Apollinaire               

to whom she could describe her night’s excursion

amid the loud hilarities, the consuming hungers,

arriving towards the end of the American era.    


Copyright 2019 John Balaban. From Empires by John Balaban (Copper                                                                                                                   Canyon Press, 2019)

John Balaban is the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose. His awards include The Academy of American Poets’ Lamont Prize, the National Poetry Series, the William Carlos Williams Award, the George Garrett Award, and a medal from the Ministry of Culture of Vietnam for his translations of poetry and his restoration of ancient texts. 

10 comments on “John Balaban: Anna Akhmatova Spends the Night on Miami Beach

  1. Nora
    August 24, 2022

    Have always loved this poem….hearts full of truth—Anna’s and John’s

    Liked by 1 person

    • john balaban
      August 24, 2022

      Thanks, Nora! It’s one of my favorites too. Derived from an accident…I loaned a friend the book and he left on my front porch in Miami, where the salty air took its toll on it overnight and started me thinking when I found it the next morning.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. matthewjayparker
    August 23, 2022

    Sweet and sour. As it should be.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Griswold
    August 23, 2022

    Wonderful to see this one again. Thanks, Vox Populi.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rose Mary Boehm
    August 23, 2022

    Just wonderful! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. loranneke
    August 23, 2022

    How wonderful to read a poem by John Balaban — I’m a fan of his! His description of that book!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sean Sexton
    August 23, 2022

    So great to see this here!
    Miss you John.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Balaban
      August 23, 2022

      Thanks, Sean. I’ll be down in Sarasota, Sept 7. I’ll write you about that later today.

      Liked by 1 person

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