Friday Night, The Three of Us

Sitting on the back deck after dinner last night, in jeans and long-sleeved shirts, the girls asked if we were going swimming.

Well, why not?

The girls sprawled on the grassy bank while I swam down the pond, from the shadows into the sunlight, the water warm, the surface rippling with feeding fish.

All summer long, we swam in this cupped bowl in the earth, our bodies both in all that dragonfly-filled sky and the water with muck and weed, minnow and turtles. A curled oak leaf floated on the surface. I floated on my back, staring up at the fading blue sky, a single cloud laced pinkly at the edges with sunset.

Later, knitting scrap yarn into a scarf, I shivered. Hours later, still cold, a cat crawled with me until the blankets while I read with a flashlight.

During the siege of Leningrad:

The heat in the (public) library gave out early, and the plumbing eventually froze and burst. In late January, the building finally lost its electricity. The librarians still searched the shadowed stacks with lanterns, and, when they ran out of oil, with burning pieces of wood. They still served patrons and sought out the answers to practical questions posed by the city government: alternative methods of making matches or candles, forgotten sources of edible yeast. As the building grew colder and more battle-scarred, they closed the reading rooms one by one. Finally, patrons and librarians all huddled in the director’s office, where there was still a kerosene map and a buzhuika stove.

— M. T. Anderson, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad


Hardwick, Vermont

Symphony of Our Small World

In high school, hidden in the upstairs of my parents’ barn, I read Russian literature — The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace — I read about life behind the Iron Curtain, Darkness at Noon, Solzhenitsyn.

Late last night, the cats and I read M. T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, a book filled with hunger, fear, and love.

These summery, hot days continue to unfold, a world apart from coal-less winters in Russia. Our days are busy, jammed with my multiple work endeavors, with a daughter in middle school, and soccer practices and games, with her babysitting and my older daughter’s tender young adult life — can I build a tiny house? will I fall in love? — with pickling green beans and putting up salsa and somehow painting the upstairs floors while listening to Rumblestrip podcasts, and swimming at the end of the day as often as possible.

This life, messy with creativity and doubt, with love and grief, is lucky beyond belief. Thank goodness, I remember this at times.

Shostakovich states that at the beginning of the Seventh (Symphony) he depicts the peaceful life before the war in the quiet homes of Leningrad. But to a listener in Iowa it could mean the meadows and the rolling hills around his home. After the fantastic theme of war, Shostakovich has put into his music a lament for the dead — and the tears of a Russian mother and of an American mother are the same.