Thursday, October 23, 2008

Brodsky in My Head

Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Prize for Literature, October 22, 1987

Signed copy of "Less Than One: Selected Essays" by Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky's Obituary
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For some unknown reason Joseph Brodsky, the Russian born, exiled writer and poet, has been in my head since yesterday, like a stubborn tune that will not go away. I Googled him last evening and learned that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature twenty-one years ago yesterday, "for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity."

I pull out an old book which he signed for me years ago and am surprised to find that I had tucked into it a newspaper clipping of his passing. I had forgotten. Now I recall finding his obituary more than a decade ago and drawing a small heart next to his name.

Why a heart? Because he once drew a heart for my Misha. You see, he was at Rice University in Houston for a reading and book signing. Misha, who has been in love with all things Russian since she saw "Doctor Zhivago" as a child, invited me to go with her to meet Brodsky.

Misha has not always been Misha. She hates for me to tell people this, but she was born Cynthia Ann. When she was in college she decided to take up ballet but being so petite, her classmates nicknamed her Misha, a name she legally adopted, much to her family's shock.

There we stood, Misha chatting in Russian with Brodsky. Then he opened her copy of his book and asked for whom he should sign his book, "A Part of Speech." "Misha," my daughter responded.

"And who is Misha?" he asked.

"I am Misha," she said.

[I must point out here that to a Russian, Misha is a male name. It is not cute or chic to name a female Misha. It's like naming her Irvin or Harry or Stanley.]

So naturally, an utterly astonished Brodsky spun toward me, her mother, and asked rather sternly, "How come!?"

I was defenseless; the fact that I was innocent did not mitigate the assumption of guilt. My daughter gave me a stern look, as she did when I was not to reveal her birth name, which was never.

He signed her book "To Misha..." and drew a little heart next to Misha. In my book, he wrote "For Misha's Mother..." sans heart.

So, Joseph Brodsky, you are welcome to my head... and my heart.

Note: Later, when Misha went to Russia to study, the Russians refused to call her Misha. They gave her a proper female name, which is now her legal name. To her family, she remains Misha. You get only one name change in this family. Misha lives in Moscow with her husband and children where she can look out of her apartment window and see Red Square, as she writes her books at a desk that once belonged to Stalin.

In Spain last year, I returned Brodsky's book, with the little heart in it, to Misha. Now his book, "A Part of Speech," resides on the desk of Stalin in Moscow.

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