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Yuriy

A tuft of reddish-brown, never-flattening hair
stuck out from under a fur hat, and if you
looked close, you would see the small
gold ring in his right earlobe.
If you asked him about it, he would tell you
it was from his latest visit to Morocco,
where everyone’s smiles are wider than their dark faces,
their teeth white as Russian snow.
He’d go on about the markets,
more plentiful than raisins in raisin bread.
Markets with spices, vegetables, ivory,
ebony, gold, liquor, and clothes with more colors
than you’ve ever seen in your life.
He could go on about it for awhile, until you asked him
about the tail of a tattoo hidden under the sleeve of his left upper arm,
the one of the squinting red serpent.
Then, he’d groan and put a hand over his eyes, smiling
sheepishly beneath his fingers. Nothing could stop him
from telling about his single trip to the Orient –
he’d begin by folding his hands behind his head.
You’d be taken into a neat countryside with strange flat-topped trees
a wide sky fringed by purple mountains
and curved red-and-black roofs,
past pointed round hats in spiking green fields that led as far as the eye could see.
He would skip over the part where he’d gotten drunk on
rice wine and tell you that he was conscious
when he’d received his reptilian tattoo.
He’d laugh boisterously about it, and you’d see the gap
in his bottom jaw.
Strangely, though, if you ask the Czarevich about the missing
incisor, he’d change the subject quickly, and a sadness would shine
in his silver eyes for just a second before it dissipated.
You might look twice, wondering if it were really there, but then
you’d decide that it is rude to
stare at royalty.



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