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Poetry for the Russophile: Paul Nemser's Taurus

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Here is a fabulous curiosity for the Russophile, and a new obsession of mine -- a book of poems, a first book, it looks like, called Taurus, by Paul Nemser, from New American Press, an organization whose editorial vision I've been appreciating lately. It takes place in St Petersburg, that mad city of frost, hallucination, and winter tulips, and tells the story of a bull gargoyle inhabited by a god, who comes down off a building, gets a job as a bouncer, and falls in love with a fashion model named Europa.

This contains many things that I love... romance, Russia, mythology, sculpture, fetish. I often wonder why artists don't do more with these amazing, kinky, gender-queer ancient stories about women being raped by swans and impregnated by showers of gold. Omphale. Attis and Cybele. That's not really where Nemser goes with this, but the Europa of myth was a woman abducted by Zeus in the form of a white bull, here re-envisioned as a weird love story that's all about souls and flesh and ghosts and machines yearning outwards.

I'm not qualified to comment on the poetry as poetry, but I can say that I found these poems beautiful and gripping, and have been dragging the book around reading it aloud to myself all week. And there are so many lines that call forth particularly Russia. In a nightclub, "In the half-light, the vodka is blue as nightfall." In another poem, the air smells of "gasoline and too much talk." There's 4 a.m. daylight and kasha and a summer moon "sliced like beets into concentric rounds." The structure is also fairly unconventional and fun to read, including things like a doctored handbill from the club Griboyedeva, and a long, hilarious section written by mail-order brides.

I, of course, like the ecstatic bits best. The long poem in sections that ends the book, called Borealis, would be worth buying the book for alone. I am in love. Here's how it starts:

The god once built a city in my heart.
Or who else drained the starry, swampy brine?
Who hammered down the pylons of long pine?
The landfills and the lanes were soaked and bright.
Armloads of dung, a pecker's ratatat.
Now I'm sleepless in a lightning-withered night.
Wind reeks of gasoline and too much talk,
of whacks wedged into necks. I hump my back
and run at every net until I'm caught.
Is it rain will slaughter me or blessed luck?
If god's left hand once pistoned on my snout,
I still wait for his right. Mapless, I walk
on a shattered arch in reedy riverlands.
Let sands break sandhills down to smaller sands.