Leaving the library (To Russia with love?) by Hadley Suter

She’s good but she’s not a nihilist,
I said,
leaving the library with Zhenya,
where I’d just introduced her to Yana—
one Russian to another.
Implied here,
which Zhenya understood:
Because You! and Because Russia!
implied also:
so what do I want with her,
ultimately,
this assimilated non-nihilist—
implied but not obvious, right,
or so I hoped,
because then the question took over
of whether through the
nineteenth-century walls of free knowledge and public literacy
she’d heard me, Yana,
call her, to Zhenya:
not a nihilist.
And if she had—
but had she?—
what would that mean
for our ‘newly blossoming friendship’
as she’d called it in
an early text, that had seemed to point to a Q:
aurait-elle de l’esprit ?
I tried the old
‘put myself in her shoes’
and once there,
hated me.
Not a nihilist—how dare!
Not a nihilist—I’ll show you…

Then Zhenya, the voice of reason:
she didn’t hear, but
should she have heard, well,
she’s not a nihilist, hence
would not be offended by
being called
not a nihilist.

Ah, but it’s in the tone—
couldn’t you hear that scorn?
ô Zhen, ô fellow hateful muse:
why am I so superior?
why am I the worst person alive?
you understand this; I thought all Russians
understood this!
Zhenya with her nose in demons that week,
a later text.
La femme de la nature et de la vérité—c’est moi ;
that’s me, shedding friends faster
or exactly as fast as it takes to say
not a nihilist.

Out of this certainty that she’d heard
I got all quiet,
I retreated, taking notes, underground
with Zhenya who was leaving in a few days
back to Venice, that village, that sunshine.
See—Zhenya: a nihilist!
Ah well, lost Yana;
there’s always Anya.
Then Zhenya had a falling out
with Nastya
the day she and Yasha left town.

In ballet class with the teacher who hated me,
my name was the only one
she wouldn’t Russify—
chika-chika-boom! it didn’t flow:
too Anglo, plus no profess’ed love.
I was under the impression all of you were nihilists.
I was so sure we’d be close.

Hadley Suter is a novelist and poet living in Jersey City.