A Russian Stamp


David Fyodorovich

Well! Here we all are -- two and a half roubles’ worth!
The new lot don’t mind who took the old picture, or why.
There’s Dmitri Dmitrievich, who was back in favour for the moment --
Or what was left of him was. They’ve got him off to the side too,
Like a see-through girl in a pop video. There’s Sviatoslav Teofilovich,
Whom they didn’t put out of favour, because he wouldn’t have noticed.
And there’s me. Of course I always had to be cautious,
But Stalingrad bought me some grace. And a violin,
When a solo’s not called for, can glide beautifully along with the others.
Still, I must have annoyed whoever designed this thing. Dreadful!

Dmitri Dmitrievich

Yes, yes, I agree, it’s all marvellous.
-- Oh! My hearing’s not what it was. Yes, you’re quite right, it’s dreadful.
Are we meant to be getting out of a lift?
Or did they hope to keep us trapped in a doorway forever?
No wonder you’re smiling, David Fyodorovich:
You’re the only one who could fit your instrument in there.
Sviatoslav Teofilovich couldn’t bring a piano, that’s for sure.
And me -- well! I’ve brought my mind and my hand,
But my hand shakes these days and droops in front of me,
And I’ve long since learnt to keep my mind hidden.
Look how they’ve crammed us together, after so long spent teaching us to hate!
Sviatoslav Teofilovich almost crushes me. Good Soviet friendship.

Sviatoslav Teofilovich

We were never really friends, Dmitri Dmitrievich,
Except, perhaps, when David Fyodorovich and I played your Sonata.
You made me weak otherwise, from awe at your genius
And from things I can’t speak of. And I never understood
What you expected: I played the Preludes I liked,
Why should I play all 24? I should have thought you, of all people,
Had had enough of quotas. What made it so hard for you,
And so easy for me, not to play along,
To turn the joke on them: “A lift, you say?
“Getting off at the next floor? -- Well, I’m not!”