The Poet and the Pistol
Fyodor Gladkov, the exasperated institute director, shouted obscenities at poet Grigory Pozhenyan and then ordered: “Your feet must not step in here again!”
Grigory, without a word of protest, stood on his hands and walked out upside down, his feet not touching the floor as he exited the Gorky Literary Institute. Gladkov later reinstated him.
At the party to celebrate his return, the poet pulled a pistol awarded to him for valor by his general in the Great Patriotic War. He aimed it dead center at the chest of a literary critic who had insulted his work.
“Grigory, comrade, please don’t shoot!” the critic begged.
“Don’t ‘comrade’ me, you pathetic slug. Your barren waste of a mind isn’t fit for anything other than envy of those who can create. I don’t know whether to shoot you or pour salt on you. Do not comment on my work again.”
General Secretary Josef Stalin slapped his knee and guffawed as he sat at his breakfast table in his heavily guarded dacha reading the newspaper Pravda about the trial of poet Grigory Pozhenyan and his pistol.
The State Security Chief, Laverentiy Beria, stood to the side grimacing, refusing to laugh. “He must be sent to the Gulag,” the humorless man insisted. “Every gun that is not under our authority is a threat to the State.”
“A pistol possessed by a poet is no threat to the state, even if it is a threat to his own life,” Stalin spoke to himself, remembering the suicide Mayakovsky. “What did I order concerning Pasternak and all our real poets? Leave them alone. They are the life blood of Russia.”
“You had Osip Mandelstam arrested and liquidated,” Laverntiy Beria could barely keep from stammering.
“He was a cosmopolitan, not a Russian.” Stalin smiled a wicked smile, happy to see Beria’s reaction to this.
“What about Anna Akhmatova? You had me arrest and imprison her son?”
“What good is being the absolute ruler of the Soviet Union if I cannot torment our most beautiful woman poet? The suffering I have imposed will inspire even greater poetry from her.” Stalin looked his Security Chief in the eyes and then commanded: “You will have the judge release Pozhenyan and you will give him back his pistol.”
Stalin watched the fellow Georgian, his henchman, his Himmler, the mass murderer of millions at his orders, salute then turn and leave the dacha. The General Secretary went back to forking poached eggs and caviar into his red mouth.
This is a great piece. The barbarity of which the human race is capable is not to be under estimated.
I salute your reading. Mandelstam and Akhmatova were exquisite poets
How true Bhi. I love Russian poetry from Pushkin on. Alexander Blok is another 20th Century great, but it’s hard to find translations that are decent.