A workshop of local poets nested in the office, under the spiral staircase. A young man in blue student trousers with a dynamo-machine in his heart, a doddery old man who started writing poems at the age of fifty-nine, and a few others.
In sidled a dare-devil with an aquiline nose and a big revolver in his belt. He was the first to thrust his ink-intoxicated pen into the hearts of those who had escaped the knife and turned up for old time's sake at the track—the former Summer Theatre. To the incessant booming of the muddy Terek, he cursed lilac and thundered:
Now I'll sing you one about emergency meetings. It was most impressive!
Then another one read a paper on Gogol and Dostoyevsky wiping them both off the face of the earth. He spoke disapprovingly of Pushkin, but in passing. Promising to devote a special report to him. One night in June he tore Pushkin off a strip. For his white trousers, his "I face the future without fear..." (5), his Gentleman-of-the-Bedchamberism,(6) his elementary rebel, and in general for his "pseudo-revolutionism and hypocrisy", obscene poetry and gadding around after women...
Bathed in sweat I sat in the front row of the stuffy hall and heard the speaker rip Pushkin's white trousers to shreds. When, after refreshing his dry gullet with a glass of water, he finally suggested throwing Pushkin into the stove, I smiled. I must confess. It was an enigmatic smile, blast it! A smile's not a bird in a bush, is it?
"Then you defend him."
"I don't want to!"
"You haven't any civic courage."
"Is that so? Alright, I'll defend him."
And so I did, damn it! I spent three days and three nights preparing. Sitting at an open window by a lamp with a red shade. On my lap lay a book written by the man with eyes of fire.
Of true wisdom's ne'er-fading light... (7) It was He who said:
Indifferent alike to praise or blame... (8) No, not indifferent! No. I'll show them! I'll show them alright. I shook my fist at the inky night.
And show them I did! There was commotion in the workshop. The speaker was out for the count. In the eyes of the audience I read a silent, jubilant:
So now I'm not head of ASS Lit. Or Dram. I'm a stray dog in an attic. Hunched up. Shuddering when the bell rings at night .........................................................
Oh, dusty days! Oh, stuffy nights!
And in the summer of 1920 A. D. there did appear a vision from Tiflis. A young man, all broken and disjointed, with an aged wrinkled face, arrived and offered his services as a brawler poet. He brought with him a slim volume like a wine price-list. The book contained his poems.
Lily-of-the-valley is rhymed with don't shilly-shally.
It's enough to drive you bonkers!
The young man took an instant dislike to me. He brawled in the newspaper (page 4, column 4). About me. And about Pushkin. Not about anything else. He hates Pushkin more than me. It's alright for Pushkin! He's passed into the great beyond...