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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, June 27, 2016.
About this Poem 

“‘The Singers’ is the only work by Turgenev that I’ve read. I’ve read and loved much more Tolstoy, Chekhov, Nabokov (and in poetry, I can’t live without Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva). Honestly, “The Singers” does not seem that remarkable in terms of character development or prose style—still, it’s a story I return to when I need the startling gift and portal of stories.”
—Chen Chen

I am reminded via email to resubmit my preferences for the schedule

But really
I would prefer
to sit, drink water,
reread some Russians
a while longer 
—a luxury
perhaps, but why
should I, anyone,
call it that, why
should reading
what I want,
in a well-hydrated fashion,
always be what I’m
planning to finally
do, like hiking      
or biking, & now
that I think of it, reading
should make me, anyone,
breathe harder, then
easier, reach for cold,
cold water, & I
prefer my reading
that way, I prefer
Ivan Turgenev,
who makes me work for
not quite pleasure
no, some truer 
sweatier thing,
Turgenev,
who is just now, 
in my small room 
in West Texas, 
getting to the good part,
the very Russian part,
the last few pages   
of “The Singers” 
when the story
should be over,
Yakov the Turk
has sung with fervor,
meaning true
Russian spirit,
meaning he’s won
a kind of 19th century
Idol in the village
tavern, The End, but
Turgenev goes
on, the narrator walks
out, down a hill,
into a dark
enveloping mist, 
& he hears
from misty far away
some little boy 
calling out for
Antropka!
calling hoarsely,
darkly, 
Antropka-a-a!
& it’s that voice that stops
then opens my breath
that voice
& all Monday-Wednesday-Fridays
all Tuesday-Thursdays    
are gone
I have arrived
in the village of
no day   none
& I am sitting
with the villagers  
who are each at once
young   old  
who have the coldest
water to give me  
& songs
I think I have sung   before
they sing
their underground
tree-root syllables
they give me silences
from their long
long   hair

Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Chen Chen

Chen Chen

Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, 2017).

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