Feb. 10, 2009

Time + Distance

by Leslie Monsour

The tea you pour is black and strong.
It doesn't taste like tea to me;
I must have been away too long.

It isn't jasmine, spice, oolong;
It tastes like an apology—
This tea you pour, so black and strong.

Where's that old fork with the bent prong?
What happened to the hemlock tree?
Have I really been gone that long?

I think I hear the saddest song;
It has no words, no tune, no key.
The tea you pour is black and strong.

You're careful to say nothing wrong,
You seem too eager to agree...
Yes, I've been travelling far and long,

And now it's clear, I don't belong.
I watch you sash your robe, as we
sit, sipping tea that's black and strong.
I went away too far, too long.

"Time + Distance" by Leslie Monsour, from The Alarming Beauty of the Sky. © Red Hen Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the week of Valentine's Day, a week to think about great love stories.

And today is the birthday of a man who wrote a great love story: Boris Pasternak, (books by this author) born in Moscow (1890), the author of Doctor Zhivago (1957). When he finished the book, he smuggled the manuscript out of the Soviet Union to a publisher in Italy. It was banned in the Soviet Union, but it became an international best-seller.

Doctor Zhivago is the story of Yuri Zhivago, a doctor and a poet, and his love affair with Lara. The novel takes place around the political events of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Yuri studies medicine, meets a woman named Tonya, and they get married and have a son, Sasha. When WWI begins, Yuri signs up as an army doctor, and he is stationed in a small town.

At the same time as Yuri and Tonya are beginning their life together, Lara is involved with a powerful man, Viktor Komarovsky. She decides to marry her childhood sweetheart, Pasha. But she needs money, and she tracks down Komarovsky at a Christmas party, where she attempts to shoot him — but she misses. Yuri is also at the party, and he wonders about the fiery young woman. Lara's husband, Pasha, disappears behind enemy lines, and she becomes an army nurse in order to look for him. She ends up in the same hospital as Yuri Zhivago.

The two fall in love, but Yuri goes back home to Tonya and Sasha, and to his old job in the hospital. His co-workers there distrust him — he doesn't seem like a good Bolshevik. So Yuri and his family escape to the Ural Mountains, to a piece of farmland owned by Tonya's grandfather. A few months later, Yuri goes to the neighboring town to visit the library, and there he meets Lara. They begin a passionate love affair. But when Tonya becomes pregnant, Yuri decides that he has to break things off with Lara. He is ready to tell his wife everything and ask forgiveness, but on the way back to the farmhouse, he is kidnapped by the Reds and forced to work as their doctor for years. His family is deported to France.

Finally, Yuri escapes and walks all the way to the town where Lara still lives. They are reunited, and they go into hiding in the farmhouse. They live there happily for a while, and Yuri writes poetry. But then Komarovsky, Lara's old lover, appears to warn them that the revolutionaries are coming to kill them. He promises to take them to safety, so Lara goes with Komarovsky, to save the life of her daughter. Yuri goes to Moscow, where he dies of a heart attack. Lara returns to Moscow on the day of his funeral.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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