Tiffany & Co.

by James Seay

For Elizabeth Spencer

Leafing through a friend’s catalogue—
the Fall Selection 1987—
I linger on something the blue of a robin’s egg
and wonder why I’ve never bought any of these objets,
never felt the specific fetish-force
of the commodity behind the revolution
of their brass doors or 800 number.
There’s possibly history to explain:
we could go back, say, seventy years
to when my mother and JFK were born
and take a look around:
Freud’s new Intro to Psychoanalysis on one hand,
Lenin entering the Winter Palace on the other,
but mainly there’s the paradigmatic news
every winter day in Tyro, Mississippi,
of no indoor plumbing and a dead aunt’s
five children extra to feed,
which lasted right on through my kindergarten
of visits to Granny’s.
                        So why on Bolshaya Morskaya
would I go looking for Fabergé’s old Saint Petersburg shop
when where Lenin had breakfast
with smoldering Bolsheviks was just around the corner?
Well, maybe to have pissed into both figurative
wind and a hole in the ground
is to be drawn to the abstract gloss
of privilege as though it might incorporate
and invite us to its private Mardi Gras—
such parades in life, for instance, as lunch
with the woman in Georgetown
whose every emblem was Camelot,
right down to the sterling frame for the presidential scrawl
on a scrap of teletype
thanking her for the intro to Ian Fleming
and 007.
But it didn’t seem, on Bolshaya Morskaya, the same dream
of Fat Tuesday’s carnival and masquerade.
I thought of old Fabergé, Russian to the bone and in Swiss exile
while Bolsheviks, quit with eating fable-cake,
were already breaking rank and bellying up
to the tsar’s bar, the monkey
of power settling on their backs,
jeweled eggs glittering in their words.
Power’s not like Bond’s regimental gin;
it wants to be stirred never shaken:
sooner or later there’s the commissioned aria,
the room of shoes worn once or never,
cinema’s kitten purr.
Or the threadbare velvet glove
on the stainless steel hand
the cautious in any century recognize.
                                                She didn’t smile—
my Intourist guide in Moscow—
but I meant it only as a joke
when I asked her if there was a tunnel
between the headquarters of the KGB
and the country’s largest store for children’s toys,
just across the street.
One imperial egg in the Kremlin nearby
still has as it surprise the miniature
Tran-Siberian Railway train.
Another opens to reveal Nicholas’ yacht
scaled down in gold.
We have to imagine the crossties & rails, the constant steppes,
in all seasons, to the sea,
imagine the sea as well, and the globe
we want to shape and shape again.

James Seay was born in Panola County, Mississippi, in 1939. His publications include four collections of poetry (most recently, Open Field, Understory), two limited editions of poetry, and a documentary film about big-game hunting in East Africa, In the Blood (1990), co-written with the film’s director George Butler. His poetry has been selected for inclusion in some thirty anthologies. He has also published essays in general-interest magazines such as Esquire and in literary journals such as Antaeus. From 1987-1997 he served as director of the Creative Writing Program at UNC-CH. His honors include an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship (1996-1999) for excellence in undergraduate teaching.