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Poetry and Medicine
November 18, 2009

Babushka

Author Affiliations
 

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2009;302(19):2068. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1504

Melikhovo, Russia

In endless rain the school that Chekhov built
sports fresh paint, Crimean blue and white trim.
Mud-covered village behind it—squalid huts,
stands of aspen, slat church, and barnyard geese,
as skinny as ferrets. A mosquito-pricked marsh.
The babushka, wrapped in a black overcoat
with rubber boots, sits at the door. We pay her
fourteen rubles and, since she insists with a switch,
we scrape guck from our soles before entering.
In the classroom Chekhov's sister taught in—
rows of desks like polished roots and a map
depicting the world as yellow. The woman’s
grudging face shows us the whole place. No tourists
this week until us. Mosquitoes' predatory whine
replacing rain. The vestibule is so damp
babushka's knees are honking. She pantomimes
relentless hours spent alone, stamping her feet
on floorboards to pump up her blood flow.
She shows us the stack of spiritual reading
her granddaughter sent from Moscow.
Meanwhile, our driver spits, Babushka!
Her husband drank himself to death, he says.
And she wants you to know this village
hasn't had a baby for twenty years.

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