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Andrey Gritsman

Montreux Redux

Coming back to Montreux,
to the site of a previous crime,
to the threshold of my own life,
to watershed of two lives.
This time my route leads
through the lovely city of Munich,
once burned down to the ground on the cold morning
when the squadrons of RAF blew up a clear May sky.
It still harbors in its primordial memory
invisible traces of death.

Thirty thousand women and children,
even Hitlerjugend at the front.
This is for Coventry, for London, they say this was all Brits.
My long-dead grandfather,
depicted on the old 1941 black and white on the outskirts of Moscow:
emaciated face, burning eyes, no epaulettes yet,
just the Red Army rhombic insignia on the rugged
winter trench coat.

Russians in Munich everywhere,
their own little world, layered, separated,
still everybody gets together in a little food store
around meat dumplings, Russian Daily, and kielbasa.
This is their own circle like in Berlin in the twenties:
Nabokov, poets, crooks, suicidal white army officers.

Now Ukrainian Jews carry high
the banner of Russian culture in the indifferent
Bavarian skies.
They’re getting together, marrying, divorcing,
sleeping around with each other in turns,
predator hunting types bring their beloved to the infarct,
saving them, destroying again,
looking for a new neck in search of the jugular.

Farewell in Munich in the favorite Nazi Beer Halle,
the same that was closed down by the Allies
until the early eighties. Long benches where the Nazi brothers
were sitting tight, singing.
Across the table from me,
European intellectuals thrust their teeth into the juicy pork,
wolf down local delicacy: chopped off around the knee joint
pig legs, joint bent, crusty burned skin, salty crust,
giant frosty and frothy mug—
the centerpiece of the pagan feast.

My rented BMW sealed zooming on Autobahn along Bavaria.
A bite to eat in the Auto grille next to large Arabic
or North African families, half of them covered by burkas,
families slowly taking over the European continent,
land lethargically falling asleep.

As sun setting down, through the Republic Osterreich,
into noncommittal, trilingual, cold and watery Switzerland,
like a thorn in the side of the proudly rotting EU,
naked king boldly and challengingly looking
right into the face of obnoxious America,
king’s back and ass completely naked and exposed
to the Asian winds.

Switzerland meets you with the chains of lights,
mysterious, falling asleep in the shroud of twilight
without suicidal explosions,
rolling back into darkness, canton after canton.
Montreux at midnight: fairy tale, celebrated lakefront with benches
where both Vladimirs (gap of half century),
Lenin and Nabokov, were sitting, smoking
and exchanging their thoughts with swallows and street peddlers.

Now a couple of Ukrainian whores in miniskirts, smoking
at the entrance to the nightclub, New Caesars,
girls screaming at the top of their lungs:
“You know this prick told me to go screw myself,”
in a lovely Russian with a trace of the southern accent,
the words of their curse flying over the Geneva Lake
like a flock of crows back into Russia.

Montreux Palace—Overlook Hotel in Shining filled
with absentminded Brits, 60-year-old Arabs
with 20-year-old Russian girls,
wealthy Russians with fat chunky wives
with expensive Gucci bags and daughters
flown in from private schools in England.

I leave next morning after a cup of bad American coffee
served by a young, muscular Arab in a little Greek restaurant lakeside.
The trunk of my car packed at the grand entrance to the Montreux Palace
by a uniformed porter, trilingual, Russian speaking,
Mr. Karimov, a freelance journalist and essayist for one of the Moscow publications,
bearer of the same last name and a fellow countryman
of the despot who shot to death 300 people
on the streets of the city of Andijan, Uzbekistan just a week ago.

As I look back in a rearview mirror:
dark cloud hanging over Caux
reminds me of what I left there.
Nabokovian trails, trails disappearing
into the glaciers, leading
to the frozen end of the world.

Sarin, Soman, Tobun

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Sarin, Soman, Tobun.
It was fun
Despite the fact,
that Brian Jones just drowned.
But the Stones got Ronnie instead,
got slicker, tighter, more
eternal and sellable.
I heard of Brian
at the Chemical Defense class
at my med school,
where Coronel Butov
taught us of Sarin, Soman, and Tobun, and
acetylcholinesterase effect.
We, young and happy and aware
that even Vermacht
abstained from using gas
on the counterattacks
by Vyazma and Bryansk.

Now when it is all over,
the Cold War and the Star Wars,
Berlin Wall
and the Coronel,
decorated for Kursk,
lies at the Vvedensky Old German
Cemetery, where Coronel Gritsman
also lies, I feel shame.
Shame, as I order Chinese from the corner
of 91st and Amsterdam,
tickets to Crimea,
and remember our 1995
lovely Venice vacation,
few hours drive from Sarajevo.

I look at today’s Times’ front page,
at Izvestiya interview with President Assad
and see the plastic bags with children,
froth diagnostically stuck
to their lips
in the suburb of Damascus.
Plastic bags, like in the supermarket
frozen foods department, only bigger.
And I think that there is no progress in arts,
which is natural.
And it’s coming back to me
what Coronel Butov taught us
about Sarin, Soman, and Tobun
in Moscow; us
and also Syrian Baath officers
of our age.

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