Official Happiness

The cosmonaut returned to Earth said moonshine

was what he’d missed, and wurst. He described

space: weightlessness feels nice, there is plenty

of candy stuffed in the hatch-flap, et cetera

and the kids think you’re a hero. You distract

yourself with streets named after you, men in stiff-brimmed hats

glinting their teeth and their brass buttons, jangling your hand…

 

those thoughts are off the record. Asleep on the ceiling

of someone’s utopian dream, the poster toddlers warble

encouragements from rosebud mouths: Glory

To Breastmilk, To the Countryside Electrified, To War

Bonds and Corn and the bravery of slow

animals who have no choice. Glory to your mom

and the soldier who opened her like a fat clutch

 

and closed her up again, tenderly

and left for the front before you weaseled your

wet red way out. The pipes of your Stalinka

are still leaking sour water from the birthmark spreading

its tea-colored mold across the white. Your life

will be busy and short and in the end you’ll lose

sensation in your legs. Two hundred million friends

will weep as newscasters gasp platitudes

 

in the imperial tongue. The birch trees creak and sway,

creak and sway above the grove where the young

pioneers of tomorrow will carry your corpse

carnations, whistling The Motherland Hears,

The Motherland Knows… Your last thought: Korolyov

patting the pure white fuselage lovingly, grinning,

“The bastards, they’re recording everything.”

 

 

*  Stalinka: the colloquial name for a style of apartment building constructed in the Soviet Union

between roughly 1935 and 1960.

** Korolyov: Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov (1907-1966), lead Soviet rocket engineer and designer

of the Sputnik and Vostok spacecraft in the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Space Race in the 1950s and 60s.