Spring 2010 • Vol. XXXII No. 2 PoetryApril 1, 2010 |

Stalin’s Laughter

At the secret policeman's feast, Pauker sagged, drunk, between two officers, as he aped Zinoviev, hiccupping hilariously and staggering over watery, risible feet as he was dragged to the firing post. A devotee of Momus, son of Night, Stalin was, and Pauker, knowing it, mouthed words he could not, in feigned panic, propel from his tongue because dysphonia is always funny, the ratchet and catch of fractious breath farcical. Pauker fell prostrate, as Zinoviev had fallen, and, as Zinoviev had done, he clutched the boots of his mock guards, and cried, Please, for God's sake, comrade! Call Yosip Vissarionovich. And Stalin, evoked as savior, roared, basso buffo. Pauker pushed harder, as a jester must, raising his arms to the banquet hall's beamed ceiling, as Zinoviev had raised his to the fuliginous brown clouds crowded over the prison yard, and cried, "Hear, O Israel, our God is the only God." Stalin choked on ungovernable mirth. Tears rolled almost onto the mustache whose likeness, metap

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Andrew Hudgins teaches at Ohio State University. His most recent book is American Rendering: New and Selected Poems. In June, Simon and Schuster will publish The Joker: A Memoir and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish A Clown at Midnight.

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