Babushka - Peter Malakoff
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For Bobby

my dear traveling companion

 

'Babushka' is Russian for

 

'grandmother'

 

Often used as a term of

 

endearment

Babushka

Once we laughed together

 

riding the freight trains from the thick eastern cities

 

to the wide emptiness of the Colorado Rockie's and the California ocean

 

Smoking Bull Durham roll-your-own cigarettes

 

we were stopped for hitchhiking  in upstate New York

 

and went to court in the judge's house during dinner

 

Standing there with our long ringlets of hair and Salvation army clothes

 

while his wife told the children not to be like us

 

but

 

I could see the light  of mutual  recognition

 

as their eyes met mine with smiles and secret sharings

 

He sent us off to three days in jail and they cut off all our hair

 

 

 

Stuck for three days in the same spot hitchhiking

 

on route 99 in the Southern California  desert

 

knowing or believing

 

that the moment we didn't worry about getting a ride 

 

we would get one

 

(because that moment would last forever)

 

 

 

"Telegraph and Haste, Berkeley!"

 

you shouted out when we got separated

 

on the freight trains at Wishram, Washington

 

on the Columbia River

 

You headed south on a flatcar 

 

me, watching the train go by

 

too fast now to jump

 

And we met there two weeks later

 

full of stories and laughter

 

proud of our train dirt and heavy knapsacks

 

 

Locked in a boxcar for two days in Willits, California

 

stranded  off on a siding  

 

peeing in a plastic bag and shitting  there too

 

eating  raw brown rice and sipping tamari

 

Some kids cutting through the train yards from school

 

heard us shouting and let us out

 

Now

 

you are a Jehovah's Witness

 

sad, indrawn, resigned to be a good Christian

 

resigned to be 'married' to the Lord

 

not even looking me in the eye when you talk  

 

except to warn me of my fate

 

in damnation

 

I shared my only heavy blanket with you

 

as we rode that empty boxcar

 

over Grant's Pass in the winter  

 

I loved you as my brother

 

Why do I feel now

 

that you are so afraid  to live

 

Did something scare you?

 

 

 

Was it the time we walked past midnight

 

late fall on the northern coast of Maine

 

our feet shuffling the leaves?

 

We passed softly into dream that night

 

and fell asleep so deeply

 

on a pine needle-strewn forest bed

 

that when we woke in the still  early dawn

 

it seemed

 

both of us had just been born

 

and in a golden leafy glory

 

we looked at each other and cried for joy 

 

just to be alive

 

 

Or

 

Was it all those stars

 

crowding the sky

 

on that wild night train out of Salt Lake City

 

riding the outside

 

underneath a piggyback

 

freezin' and shoutin' out our praise to each other

 

in the wind

 

just to keep warm?

 

 

Or

 

Was it your Father

 

who you always felt sad about

 

still  mourning  your Mother

 

sitting  alone in his small  room  

 

unshaven

 

in a New York Ghetto

 

the windows all dirty?

 

Did you become this way for him

 

somehow?

 


Because he never looked at the stars anymore?

 


Because he never shared

 

our causeless joy?

 

Because he never cried

 

till he laughed?

 

 

Babushka

 

there are no causes for laughing in your gospel

 

Babushka we called each other

 


Babushka I call you now

 


and I wonder

 

if I ever really knew you

 


or we simply spent

 

some time together