Poetry: “In Yagodnoe Camp” by Mark Sealey

We have a biennale exhibition at the Museum where the art on view has been created by us, the employees, docents and volunteers who work at the Museum. It’s known as the “Underground” because the oils, acrylics, prints, photographs, collages are hung in underground passages frequented only by employees. The public don’t know about it.

I’ve exhibited a photo every time. This is one of them.

Malibu Canyon Road

Concurrent with the Underground show, one or two nights are set aside for staff to read from their latest work of fiction or poetry collection.  The evenings are always stimulating, a large percentage of our staff members have graduate degrees, and many of them have published more than one book.

About five or six years ago a small group of us who’d read at the Underground formed a Poetry Salon at the Museum. We meet bi-weekly at lunch time.

In honor of National Poetry Month, I share a poem from a member of our Salon.  Mark Sealey is the guy who organizes our meetings and keeps us going.

He describes himself thus:

Mark Sealey is a published poet, composer, music critic and web
designer.  He’s a British expatriate who lives and works in California.

In Yagodnoe Camp by Mark Sealey
==========================

Even against
the grey, grey sky
it is possible now
to make out
glossy lime
green
buds
eagerly colonising
‘our’ balsam poplar.

It looks as if
each branch
of the boney, exposed
skeleton
determines to imprecate
the gluey balm
of any months that there may be
after this March.

We in the cells,
we know why!

The tree
has been the best
that we could see
through our two square feet
of cell window.

Impure black
explained
impure grey.
Impure grey
explained
Impure black. In Yagodnoe camp.

Now the simple
intricacies
of bare
winter branches, twigs
are to disappear. Buds –
clinging fistules to
all the other
cells –
throw us a fresh menace from the
underworld.

They commit to binding us
with one more lie:
that we shall see
another Spring.

I feel the Terror. I feel
terror.


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33 Responses to Poetry: “In Yagodnoe Camp” by Mark Sealey

  1. Great photo. How wonderful you have displayed one each year! Underground show…it sounds so very interesting and it would be so stimulating to see.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Georgette,
      I also love this photo.

      The next show is in August and people are already talking about what they’re going to do. A large number of the Security Guards are artists and I always look forward to seeing their work.

  2. souldipper says:

    Wasn’t the timing great on that shot!
    The poem certainly takes one in behind the eyes of those poor prisoners – imagine having to experience spring through a tiny window? Imagine the thrill of a free, living and robust flurry of buds on a tree. Well, maybe it would be too much of a reminder.

    BTW – last saturday, a 4.5 mile hike. On sunday…a 8.5 mile hike. Ask me how the bathtub felt on Sunday night! 😀

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Amy,
      It’s all about timing….

      I’m so glad you “got” the poem. I can’t imagine having to enjoy spring through a tiny window. After reading the poem I appreciated my freedom and the fact that I can walk outside and touch and smell the spring buds on the tree outside my window.

    • dearrosie says:

      Amy I’m really impressed that you were able to hike two days in a row. I know how challenging an eight mile hike can be and you walked it after hiking over four miles the day before. I hope we can hike together one of these days….
      Oh yes indeed I know how good the bathtub feels after a long hike.

      How did your legs feel on Monday?

      • souldipper says:

        Coincidentally, I had an appointment to don my new addition to life – support hose – on Monday. (Preventative due to parents who suffered from swellings) Thus, my muscles were well “held”. I have seldom suffered from being stiff. Don’t know why. However, as I age, that may change.

      • dearrosie says:

        I know people wear support hose for plane travel but didn’t know they helped one while hiking. Thank you for sharing that bit of advice.
        You’ve never suffered from being stiff? Really? Wow are you lucky!

  3. magsx2 says:

    Hi,
    I love the idea of the Underground what a fantastic idea, and the photo you put in for the show looks great, a really nice view, and shot taken at exactly the right time. 🙂
    A lovely poem also, very nice.

  4. Sybil says:

    Had to look up “docent” … 😉

    What a wonderful idea the underground gallery is. I love your jumping photo.

  5. I had to look up imprecate but nice poem and wonderful photo. Thanks for sharing both.

    So, let me see if I understand. The museum does all this great Underground for the employees but doesn’t allow you to cut in line for coffee during your break? Kinda funny.

    Happy Easter.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi EOS
      I haven’t discussed this poem with Mark so I’m not sure I have the correct meaning of imprecate ie “To invoke evil upon; curse.”

      The Museum does NOT do anything for the Underground – it’s run entirely by staff volunteers. The coffee cart is there to make money. If I want a coffee I can go to the break room and drink that dreadful stuff they call “coffee” but which I call a brown beverage.

  6. Heavy duty poem! Brilliant…your poetry group must be very stimulating and a reason to continually improve your craft! It must be very lovely to work in an environment which encourages creativity! Your photo is just great! You express your artistic nature so very well! Debra

  7. munchow says:

    The Underground show is a fantastic idea. More people should take up on it. It must be so fun to showcase some of your own work – even if it’s «only» for the employees. I like you photo, it’s so full of spontaneity and life. Makes me happy just to look at. As for the poem by Sealey, it’s both beautiful and sad. Hard to imagine how that would be.

    • dearrosie says:

      Mark’s poems are always thought provoking. I emailed him to ask whether he used “imprecate” to mean “To invoke evil upon; curse” and he said “yes”.

      Staff members can bring guests to see the Underground show, so y’all are invited to come in August when we have the next show.

      It’s a huge honor that you like my photo Otto. 🙂 I’m glad to hear it makes you happy to look at it because that’s what I feel when I see it hanging on my wall.

  8. It’s a haunting poem and a beautiful photo. You did a great job capturing the moment! And that is so intriguing, about the “underground” art displays at the museum — I see a book in that!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Melissa,
      The Underground isn’t like a usual art exhibition – there’s everything from embroidery to paint-by-numbers- paintings, to skilled drawings, to huge photo collages, but I never thought of doing a book about it.

  9. shoreacres says:

    We have docents in all our museums, too – it’s a very familiar word.

    Many people don’t know that downtown Houston is laced with underground tunnels. They’re meant for foot traffic from one building to another, and they have restaurants, little shops and such. There often are art exhibits there – I haven’t a clue why the thought of art in tunnels appeals to me so, but it does. Kudos to all your volunteers for pulling it off!

    And your photo is great! “Springing into Spring” wouldn’t be the worst caption in the world!

    • dearrosie says:

      Is “docent” perhaps an American word? Sybil lives in Canada.

      I’ve only been to Houston a couple of times and didn’t know you have so many underground tunnels joining the downtown buildings. I’d imagine that it’s a perfect place to put on an art exhibition because there’s a lot of foot traffic at lunch time walking past those bare walls.

      I’m glad to know you like the photo. It was a spontaneous jump and I didn’t do anything in photoshop.

  10. Frank says:

    Great capture Rosie, and good luck at the exhibition. Whew … that’s a deep poem!

  11. Fantastic picture, Rosie! So full of energy and life in a natural setting…

    The poem is haunting and I tried to figure out what or where “Yagodnoe Camp” is. Maybe one of Stalin’s prison camps in Siberia? Sounds like a terrible place to be imprisoned, with only a glimpse of nature’s beauty and little hope of ever seeing another spring.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Barbara,
      Did you see Mark’s reply? He also explained to me that it’s “on the contrasts between confinement and hope”.

      • I think it is those contrasts that got me – for some reason the poem made me remember a book I read maybe fifteen years ago, *A Fine Balance* by Rohinton Mistry. The fine balance was between hope and despair. The character that seemed to me to have reason to hope took hs own life, and the character whose life seemed utterly hopeless to me kept pressing on in spite of all odds…

      • dearrosie says:

        You really understood the hopelessness of the poem. I also read Rohinton Mistry’s book “A Fine Balance” about 15 years ago. A brilliant book. Many times I found myself struggling to read on because of the horrendous things that happened to the character with the hopeless life. I didn’t want to turn the page because each page would bring another calamity, another misfortune, yet he would dust himself off and just carry on.

      • It was a heart-breaking book and it changed my perspective profoundly and made me more compassionate and less judgmental. Rosie, I think you are the first person I’ve met who has also read *A Fine Balance.*. What fragile, complicated beings we are, and yet, in the most dire circumstances we can sometimes overcome…

  12. Mark Sealey says:

    Barbara,

    Hi – and thanks so much for your appreciative comments. You’re completely right. Trying to hope…

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Mark,
      So nice to welcome you here. Thank you for explaining the poem.

    • Thank you, Mark, for confirming my guess. My paternal grandparents emigrated from Uraine and left many of their relatives behind. My aunt Mary grew up in Ukraine and joined her parents here when she was 18. She told me her uncle Nicholas had been “killed by Stalin,” but was too upset about it to elaborate any further. I’ve often wondered if he had been sent to one of those camps…

      • dearrosie says:

        Did you ever meet your paternal grandparents? I’m sure it’s best that you didn’t hear what happened to uncle Nicholas. I made a relative tell me the details of how his parents died in the Holocaust, and after he told me I was so sorry I knew, I couldn’t sleep for many nights, and even now, all these years later, just being reminded of it is too awful. It’s hard to understand how so called civilized people can do things like that to other human beings …

      • My grandmother died before I was born, and my grandfather lived with us until he died when I was 8 years old. He was a bitter, harsh man and never gave us any affection. I am also told he beat his wife, my grandmother.

        I think you may be right about my aunt not telling me the details of her uncle’s story, especially as there is nothing that can be done about the suffering now. How people can be so cruel to one another is beyond me – it seems no one has ever come up with an explanation that makes sense. I think Martin Luther King’s observation is the only hope, that education is the key. Children need to be taught compassion as a #1 priority before their hearts are hardened by their experiences in life.

        Your relative’s story must be so difficult for your heart to carry, Rosie. *hugs*

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