Poet, Journalist, Translator

Stephen Komarnyckyj


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I write about poetry, Ukraine and money laundering- why the hell not?

Swimming with Lenin

By Steve Komarnyckyj, Jul 9 2014 09:59AM

After the Soviet Union fell dozens of Lenin statues were deposited in an area off the Crimean coast. Scuba divers could swim (I imagine) past scarves of seaweed and encounter a chess playing Lenin, a pensive, reading Lenin...However, the Lenins which dominated town squares across Ukraine remained until early 2014. Then, in town centre after town centre radiating outwards from Kyiv, the noose was laid around his neck and Lenin fell.

For many in the English world he remains an inspirational figure the embodiment of a more equal society. Yet Lenin betrayed the ideal of equality from the moment he clambered onto that pedestal and his followers transformed themselves from a liberation movement into a sectarian cult. The veritable hailstorm of Lenins tumbling across Ukraine in 2014 should compel those on the British left who idealise the Soviet legacy to think again.

The poem below, which was originally published in Poetry Salzburg Review, is based on an imaginary visit to the underwater Lenin museum. It looks as if the eyes of those statues are swivelling in the undersea light right now and, who knows, some of them may be walking up the beach, picking the barnacles off their bronze and marble garments.

Lenin takes a Dip or the Poem with the Word S*** in it Six Times

A museum of discarded Lenin Statues has been opened in the waters off the Crimean Coast.

There is something remorseless

About how the waves brush

The sides of the boat,

And how the heat

Makes Balaclava ripple,

And the distant bluffs unreal,

The headland, a crumbling skull.

I relax and breathe and roll

Backwards to fall

Wriggle then balance.

Silence. A Black Sea Bass

Gives me a blank glance

Its eyes are buttons, buttons

Of polished jet, the dorsal spines

Needles of black bone.

It’s got rhythm, Man.

Five beats and its gone.

I kick my way down

To the bed. Deep blue light.

Scarves of weed undulate.

I move slowly. The water’s weight

Makes time dilate,

And sound radiate.

Your wordless shout

Surrounds me slowly, as you drift

Back heel pearls and lift

A couple of feet

To where the white

Bust of Lenin stares

Through the coastal waters.

His eyes blank as two ducks’ eggs.

His wordless gaze begs,

Or seems to beg.

I’ve got him pegged,

With an old quote

That bubbles towards the boat

“What is Russia? Russia is shit”,

He said once, shit, Honvo,

And his glance is shit too

Shit or bad art.

We dance in the dark light

Around him with linked arms

And celebrate all the shit things.

Even a murderer’s statue has its charms.

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