One winter in the finished basement of my childhood home, I went on a Turgenev tear, reading all of Ivan’s novels in those black Penguin paperback versions. I didn’t get much exercise down there, but I surely enjoyed the visit to Russia. Here’s a poem from my first collection, The Indifferent World, about those times…
by Ken Craft
As a young man, I lay in a finished
basement for years, bound
to an oatmeal carpet, sickly and citrus-skinned
in the tangerine glow of incandescent bulbs.
Outside it was winter in Connecticut; far
away it was Hell in Vietnam; but inside it was merely
hard Berber rug, a gas heater,
and my gentrified Russian novels.
The knot-paneled room offered neither hope
nor despair nor thought of escape. Warm-woozy,
I dozed, awakened, read
more as the heater exhaled
In the books, lime trees rattled and rooks took wing.
Bough to fragrant leaf, kvas-drinking peasants
laughed and cursed. On the wind came the smells
of horse and rain and superfluous ideas.
Outside it was spring in Oryol; inside it was
black-backed Penguins, ocher-edged paper,
ink in Monotype Bembo, the chalky outline
of my sun-starved body on the floor.
I remember my mother’s art deco clock, gold spikes
gripping the dark pine wall, how it dripped
hours and minutes, weighing tick for heavy tick
with the pinging heater, submerging
me and my future pasts—all of them—
in the calm killing current of Turgenev time.
— © Ken Craft, The Indifferent World, Future Cycle Press, 2016