L’Éducation Sentimentale

Soviet women past their prime in aubergine turtlenecks washed to sheen: Vera Josephovna Pearlbaum, Lyubov Leonidovna Burnstein.

Public detractors of Stalin, secret admirers of Pasternak, keepers of the old family cooking style— cloves and garlic, celery and parsnips.

“Dear children, you must love the classics,” they preached in voices laced with pain as our masters shot down a South Korean liner west of Sakhalin in the Sea of Japan.

“The English teacher, she’s no dummy,” said one classmate. “Jews are usually smart.” I stared out the window. “Fucking Russian teacher,” said another classmate. “The sniveling Jewbitch.” I smashed the window.

“All the world’s a stage, and we’re merely players,” repeated Vera Williamovna Pearlstein. “Children, drop by drop, squeeze out the slave,” repeated Lyubov Antonovna Burnbaum.

Outside the window, Brezhnev, the warmhearted playboy, was dying, after him, Andropov, the bloodthirsty spymaster, was dying, after him, timid party secretary Chernenko was dying, then Gorbachev claimed his spot under the sun of the dying.

We read “Lady with Lapdog.” We memorized Shakespeare’s sonnets; we learned to love and betray one another. A whole lifetime wouldn’t be enough to shake the memories of this rancorous theater.

See the author’s parallel Russian-language version of the poem

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