House Of Tudor

Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin and Ivan Trunin

Since January, the people of Russia have been celebrating the birth of Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, the rogue poet who, 200 years after his birth, still represents the immutable spirit of his people in a way that political tracts and philosophical theories never have. It's difficult for Americans to imagine a dead poet making more of an impression on their day-to-day lives than an athlete or a talk show host, but in Russia 8-year-old schoolchildren begin to commit Pushkin to memory. Pushkin's face adorns playing cards, chocolates, and bottles of vodka; blue and white banners carry thoughts of him over Moscow's city streets; the opera houses present Tchaikovsky's musical interpretations of Eugene Onegin and Queen of Spades; nightclubs host wife Natalya Pushkin look-alike beauty contests; cities, newspapers, and schools hold poetry contests in Pushkin's honor; fishermen and taxicab drivers recite his stanzas through their workdays; and every year, on the anniversary of his death, tens of thousands of people arrive at the shrine of his deathbed to recite poetry, or journey to the simple monument that marks the place of his fatal duel, where they leave red carnations. For nearly two centuries, Pushkin has embodied the Russian consciousness, not only through his writing but through his very "Russian-ness."

In Moscow, Pushkin's birth is celebrated in June -- we're a little behind here in San Francisco. But it's oddly suitable that, while the Russian American Cultural Foundation is celebrating the birth of their national poet in August, enclaves throughout San Francisco are mourning the all-too-recent death of another Russian poet, Ivan Trunin, who had most recently made this city his home. Like Pushkin, Trunin's Russian-ness was robust and inescapable: He ate and drank with passion; he was quick to laugh and quick to fight; he reveled in his body and took refuge in his mind. He was a journeying mystic and a gregarious fool who rode a skateboard and wrote poetry, both faithfully. Like Pushkin, it was dueling that finally deprived the world of Trunin's presence and, like Pushkin, it took longer than it should have. We wish him exultation ....

For those who love Pushkin, mezzo-soprano Elena Zaremba, tenor Joseph Shalamayev, soprano Svetlana Nikitenko, and San Francisco male a cappella chorus Slavyanka will present music and poetry at Herbst Theater on Sunday, Aug. 29, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25-50; call 392-4400.

For those who love Trunin, I leave you with the first I discovered:

She's the last of the longships

She runs porto to plunder

and carry across

tree-rich forests and plateaus

burned out T.S. Ellected

she's the last of the longships

no one knows why she still goes

got a heart like the jungle

thoughts that race as the ice winds

pays all homage to moon

pays all homage to sun yet irreverent of all else

Jesus died for the longship

the unconquerable vessel

and I built her myself

Not a single screw used I

nor a single nail hammered

its all notched wood latched timber

and rope, nothing else

thus when I'm in the big storms

running high as the devil

plummeting down through the dark hungry troughs

she is bending beneath me

like a reed bends to strike ye

like an arm bends to drink deep

any stallion would break

She's the last of the longships

she is lover to me, yes

she is all I possess which I deem worthy of me

all my treasure I'll squander

heart by love ripped asunder

but dare, oh I dare ye

to string a bow at my longship

and I will swing hard my broadaxe

and annihilate ye

Calm and blue is my ocean

sails are down

I am resting

she is tested, unbested

last time, oh I remember

I am eating a mango

and drinking my wine

time is time

you can dance it, chance it, romance it

storms are storms

they will test you

life is life

till my longship and I cease to be

till we are buried beneath all the blue

in the sea.

And the last:

... he is climbing

she is diving

there is a wall before us all

stopped making sense

and started rhyming

starting timing how long

it takes to fall

since you jumped

you haven't been yourself at all

you haven't clenched your fist

around the railing

and turned your tearstreaked face

to God, without believing.

 
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