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The Twilight of Freedom


Every morning I dream of running away but I'm seventeen and I have no place to run to.  And, in the Soviet Union you go to prison if you don't work.

In the hallway I pass the Wall of Shame. The photos look like mug shots.  Three alcoholics, five men who didn't pay child support, and me.  My boss calls me into his steel cubicle. His face is beet-red.  He smells of vodka. His voice echoes from the vaulted ceiling.

"One more late stamp and you are on the Wall of Shame again, Krasnova."

"I don't give a fuck." (I don't say it.)


He is suffering.  The whole country is suffering from a collective hangover.  For seventy years we celebrate the Great October Socialist Revolution in November. The time is out of joint.  Three party leaders died in succession in the last four years and nothing has changed.  But now there are rumors--whispered in smoking rooms--that things will change. 

"Gorbachev is up to no good," my grandfather told me.

Folders with secret documents tower on my desk.  Lists of tank parts. Inventories.  Underneath, I have banned books: Brodsky, Solzhenitsyn.  I re-type Mandelstam's poem The Twilights of Liberty.  If they catch me I'll go to prison but they are too sick to catch me.


After work I go to a boiler room called Kamchatka.  All underground rockers in Leningrad come to hang out here. All misfits.  Shaven temples, black clothes and lots of black eyeliner. We work as factory hands, night guards, janitors.  We hate our parents' world.

Tsoi throws coals into the burning oven and takes his guitar. He is half-Korean and looks like a razor.  His songs are sad and strong.  He sings about us--how cold and dark it is outside and how there's nowhere to go. How their clothes are too tight for us.  How scared we are.  We drink red wine, smoke pot and Tsoi sings,

Changes, our hearts demand!
Changes, our eyes demand!
In our laughter, in tears, in the vein pulsation--
Changes, we are waiting for changes!
The changes are about to begin.