Tag Archives: Russia

Whistling for Stalin – poem

This w/end my poet friend Kathleen Kummer will be celebrating her 94th birthday. We first met 20 years ago on a writing week held near Cambridge. Kathleen lived and worked in The Netherlands after marrying a Dutchman.

To mark her special day, I’m posting a poem from her debut collection Living below sea level, published by Oversteps Books. The poem first appeared in the original 14 magazine, edited by Mike Loveday.

Whistling for Stalin

Circus performer summoned to the dacha,
you arrived empty-handed, no sign of the treasure
at the tip of your tongue. The signal was given,
you pursed your lips, made them a channel,
floated a tune on a cushion of air,
like a bird in a cage, lusciously trilling.
They sat around in their white, belted tunics,
he and his henchmen, legs stretched out rigid,
but ready to jack-knife to a Georgian folk song.

Did your whistling enliven the poker-face,
make it genial? When he clicked his fingers,
your tune slid back into its voice-box.
How much did you know about Uncle Joe?
When you whistle, you’re bound to sound carefree.