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Postcard from Petersburg

Shanta Acharya

We shall meet again, in Petersburg
                Osip Mandelstam


No map could have illustrated its character,

having survived the schizophrenia of the past century.


Negotiating our way through the crowds,

           we arrive in Palace Square,

unprepared for the treasures of the Hermitage.

A mirror of facades, the majestic Neva

barricading the revolution each day in the heart.


We greet The Bronze Horseman crushing treason,

            haunted by the fate of Pushkin.

As we leave Yusupov's Palace,

            a prayer escapes my lips for Rasputin:

Russia crushed with the weight of its past.


How different from Dostoevsky’s dark world

            the light in Sennaya Ploshchad; its tree-lined

canals a haven for all sorts during the White Nights,

            perfect after Swan Lake at the Mariinskiy.


Strolling down Nevskiy Prospekt, buying caviar

at Yeliseev’s, window-shopping at Gostinyy Dvor

and Passazh Arcade, its glass canopy turning

sky into ceiling, letting the sunshine flood in -


We emerge at the colonnades of the Kazan Cathedral,

taking in the view across the canal with a church

           gleaming in the background, beckoning u

to pray for this paradise built on spilled blood.


From Fire No 26 (2005)

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