Like a first love, the man you made
from words instead of from snow,
fitting him together like a jigsaw
cut out of your thin plywood floor

from all your lovers’ best sides.
How amenable he was to being
whoever you wanted him to be:
a man of meanings and melody –

even communicating at times before
he was understood. When you were
in rags, frozen without firewood,
your plate empty, he understood

your needs and wrapped you
in his coloured cloak of metaphors,
saving you from the storm-petrels
hovering in your heart, from decibels

of a silence that stunned thought.
Down your life’s long corridor
he unclasped your handshake
with the muse that made you quake –

from the Inferno, and ensured
that the soothsayers conjured by Dante –
their heads screwed backwards
for ever – were swivelled forwards

in case you thought one of them
could be you. Such pillow-talk
you exchanged with him in nights
stalked by ghosts of your own insights.



You convalesced in Domodedovo,
a metronome in your hand to encourage
your pulse to beat to the toes you tapped.

But your heart was a balalaika hid from show,
its strings snapping as wild time-signatures
from demonic fingers plucked a counter-attack.

You needed to return to Leningrad.
There your heart might have steadied at last
to the soloists and accordion players

celebrating your stoical light, created
and uncreated, that shone on the palaces
you had lived in, gilding their shabby walls.

But you convalesced in Domodedovo
where no one saw the incurable invisible writing
in the secrecies of your soul, your silence

that hung wisdoms in the crack-willows
weeping over the holy trade of the poet
you would only too soon be exiled from.


Dragonflies dance, dragonflies sing –
skim, skirl, hover in dazzling rings.

The dragonflies that prinked my childhood
I gift to you. Bright enough to read by,
they twinkled like fairylights over lily ponds
at dusk. We ducked and dodged clouds

of them, yellow, green, mauve, red
while their shiny wings stained like glass
flew us further than the Steppes before bed.

Dragonflies dance, dragonflies sing –
glide, reverse, swivel in dazzling rings.

Had we known you then, as they caught
in the smocking on our dresses, we
would have saved them for you so that,
used to metamorphosis, they could change

out of their water bodies, larval cases
and skins, into your words. But see!
Already they perform, choreographed by The Graces.

Dragonflies dance, dragonflies sing –
glint, glitter, glow in your eternal rings.


‘When ill-wishers mockingly ask what Gumilyov, Mandelstam and Ahkmatova have in common, I want to reply “love for Dante.’”

Ahkmatova, Notes for her last talk, Bolshoy Theatre 1965, during a celebration of the 700th anniversary of the birth of Dante.

A balalaika: an instrument with three strings, played by frets and fingers. Domodedovo: where Akhmatova died (near Moscow) on March 5, 1966

while convalescing there from a heart attack.

‘I listened to the Dragonfly Waltz from Shostakovich’s Ballet Suite. It is a miracle. It seems that it is being danced by grace itself. Is it possible to do with the word what he does with sound?’

Ahkmatova’s note, 1961

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