Catherine the Great

By BENJAMIN S. GROSSBERG

We’re all undone by appetite; but which,
at least at first, is up to us. He pressed
himself against me in a parking lot.
We’d just finished our coffee and small talk.
A Sunday afternoon: cars pulling out
around us, and him salacious in my ear—
Catherine the Great. I didn’t move. He ground
himself on me, cars swerving around the one
body we’d become. I couldn’t move.
The potentate who died under a horse?
Prussian-born Russian Queen? A golden age
Of Russian empire and enlightenment—

He growled her name again, and I tumbled in
toward my center: my navel a sinkhole
into which all the neighborhoods of me fell.
The truss holding the ropes; the snap; the horse
whinny as its weight drops down; the snap
of Catherine’s back; or neck; the world somehow
from Paris to British Hindustan at once
hearing it: whinny, whinny, snap, snap—
And a car horn: shoppers leaving Trader Joe’s
can’t be expected to wait out two men
for long, can they? Not quite in an embrace;
you wouldn’t say Seemly, wouldn’t say
tasteful, certainly not with children close.

The moment captured for us is the break—
captured by rumor, by the pulley squeak
of invention—and maybe just before,
the illicit functioning, man and machine,
woman and horse, their factory passion.
Perhaps lost is the decade leading up,
when something, even in the world of myth
we’ll never know exactly what, leaned in
close to Catherine, right off cobblestone
or pantry, whether breeze or beast or man
pressed itself up against her with a word
or name touching her bodice and lace,
the lips of it so near her skin that she did
some 18th-century version of what I did—
jumped into the car, hightailed it home
after saying, simply, follow me,
then waiting, hazards blinking, so he could.

He taught me Russian history—
In time,
you get crushed by the horse. Always crushed.
If you could, you’d get crushed by it twice.

 

Benjamin S. Grossberg is director of creative writing at the University of Hartford. His books include Space Traveler and Sweet Core Orchard, winner of the 2008 Tampa Review Prize and a Lambda Literary Award. A new collection, My Husband Would, will be published by the University of Tampa Press this fall.

 

[Purchase Issue 17 here.]

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