Vox Populi

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Barbara Hamby: Letter to a Lost Friend

There must be a Russian word to describe what has happened
              between us, like ostyt, which can be used
for a cup of  tea that is too hot, but after you walk to the next room,
              and return, it is too cool; or perekhotet, 
which is to want something so much over months
              and even years that when you get it, you have lost 
the desire. Pushkin said, when he saw his portrait by Kiprensky, 
              “It is like looking into a mirror, but one that flatters me.” 
What is the word for someone who looks into her friend’s face
              and sees once smooth skin gone like a train that has left
the station in Petersburg with its wide avenues and nights
              at the Stray Dog Cafe, sex with the wrong men,
who looked so right by candlelight, when everyone was young
              and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, painted or wrote
all night but nothing good, drank too much vodka, and woke
              in the painful daylight with skin like fresh cream, books
everywhere, Lorca on Gogol, Tolstoy under Madame de Sévigné, 
              so that now, on a train in the taiga of  Siberia,
I see what she sees — all my books alphabetized and on shelves, 
              feet misshapen, hands ribbed with raised veins,
neck crumpled like last week’s newspaper, while her friends 
              are young, their skin pimply and eyes bright as puppies’,
and who can blame her, for how lucky we are to be loved 
              for even a moment, though I can’t help but feel like Pushkin, 
a rough ball of  lead lodged in his gut, looking at his books 
              and saying, “Goodbye, my dear friends,” as those volumes 
close and turn back into oblong blocks, dust clouding 
              the gold leaf that once shimmered on their spines.

Copyright 2013 Barbara Hamby. First published in Poetry. Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author.

Barbara Hamby was born in New Orleans and raised in Honolulu. She is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Holoholo (2021). She has also edited an anthology of poems, Seriously Funny (Georgia, 2009), with her husband David Kirby. She teaches at Florida State University where she is Distinguished University Scholar.

2 comments on “Barbara Hamby: Letter to a Lost Friend

  1. loranneke
    September 12, 2022

    Ahhh lovely. That long, last, beautiful & Proustian sentence starting at “What is the word…” and tumbles brilliantly through time and nostalgia: wow! Syntactical tour de force!


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This entry was posted on September 12, 2022 by in Health and Nutrition, Most Popular, Poetry and tagged , , , .

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