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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


Noble Man

    September, 1917.

    Papa takes his hand and talks Russian,
    the only language they've taught him.
    He won't remember any -- too young.
    "Lex," Papa says.  "Look at it son,
     look at the statue.  'Eternal
     worker on the throne,' wrote Pushkin
     of he who rode that horse so tall
     through his imperium.  The one
     who stands firm, stands long, my son."
    Nicholas has not stood at all,
    Papa thinks, and his skin crawls,
    goosepimples in the sun,
    at the thought of what is to come.

    "This first great Czar was called Peter.
     We will have to be hard workers,
     like he was, to keep our fortune
     in our new country.  We must keep
     making money, or be ruined.
     Understand, son?"  "Da, Papa, da,"
    says the boy, so soft spoken.  "Good.
     Now, Mama is waiting on the boat.
     You would like to ride in a boat, no?  Good.
     The walk is long.  Don't let go of my hand."
    And they leave the square.

    Martin Alexeyevich Luther
    is scared.  He walks very fast,
    pulling Lex, swatting at squatters
    to clear a path.  Petty peasants
    crowd the streets of Petrograd.
    Petrograd!  How he hates that name.
    This place was St. Petersburg,
    westward window on the Baltic,
    window on the West that Peter built
    in part himself and to which he gave
    his name, in German.  It cannot save
    the war effort to russify names.
    Three years of fierce fighting have lamed
    the Motherland, erased Teutonic
    words from the map and put the lackeys
    of petty peasants at the state's helm.
    Now is the time to emigrate,
    before revolution overwhelms
    every family with a good name,
    every gentleman with half a brain.

    On board, Elaina is crying.
    She will for the whole trip, and worse:
    for her lands, and the Czar's family,
    when she gets word of that tragedy.
    Her husband has no such pity --
    the end of the monarchy
    will mean more room for him
    to exploit old connections
    from American sanctuary.
    Who needs a czar?
    He and young Lex spend the voyage
    gazing dreamily at the stars.

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