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Carol V. Davis



Buzz and slam of grated gate for flights down.
His footsteps (I now recognize) on the stairs
the final stamping to shed ice and debris.
Pyramids of snow line the streets, pushed
into formation by women in orange vests and
shaggy wool leggings. The delicacy of their bound twigs
no match for the brutality of a St. Petersburg winter.
I open the first of double doors, pause before the second.
I have been scolded for being too quick.
He enters, dismantles fur hat, then coat and heavy boots.
I watch, hungry and shy, as if for the first time.
This is how the lesson begins, the shape of it
contained in these rituals, the stutter of two languages
colliding, where one sentence is begun in Russian by one,
finished in English by the other, then reversed.
An elaborate dance, as if a line of couple face
one another, all anticipation, while in the background
the violins no match for the rustle of stiff silk and organza.
The couples nod to one another, never crossing from the formal
to the familiar, as if a brush of the hand to the nape of the neck,
any movement not choreographed, too dangerous.
I sit back now, teacher and student in their own procession
of order, circle one another, like prey, like boxers.
Teacher places student’s fingers on the bridge and bow,
then steps back to watch his invention.
The two of us look at one another without speaking,
hold our breath as a tail of notes emerges
from the bowels of the violin, pauses
a moment mid-air then takes flight.


I take his voice, not knowing
if the words will trip, hesitant
as a toy coil on stairs, in his
language or mine.
Internalize it, play it back.
Even when the teacher explains
how the student must imagine the note:
hold it under the tongue like a magic stone
then widen the mouth and let it go.
There is the moment when the cage
door is opened before the bird flies out.
It knows its life is about to change
as yours is, when the mold of the canary's
feathers leaves the pillow of your palm
when the note is released without a waver
and the prayer drifting or steady
raises from your lips to God's ear.


The Last Sunday of April.
Snow falls even as the light creeps
onto the steps of the Neva Embankment
lingers in the crevices till after 9
motionless as the outstretched palm
of a babushka begging by the Metro exit.
The violin teacher carefully folds his wool
muffler, lays his fur hat on a top shelf.
He pulls out a cotton shirt, pale as the sun
on a tile roof in Northern Italy where
he will sit on church steps in a week's time
watching shadows of formless clouds
on the cobblestones as two young women
in tight skirts cross the courtyard.
Click of their heels clear as the high C
he will later play in the small concert hall.
Now squinting even in the much-loved sunlight
memory of winter, constancy of darkness
and snow, endless trips on the winding Metro
to Conservatory, to the apartments
of private students, evenings in concert
at Shostakovich Hall, collapsing at home
only near the border of midnight.
He remembers and doesn't, details
fading in the drowsiness of uncounted hours.