Koba is in a country
no a wilderness province
the size of Scotland
– nine months of ice and snow
they live in caves where his fellow
exiles fear the hard glints
in his eyes his yellow
smoky eyes that hex his comrades
and will them toward the shades
summer’s hot – they move to shacks and tents
– the tents sailcloth the shacks tarred
always aloof and solitary
he imagines becoming the metal Shah
the steel Tsar I mean
of all the Russias
gravedigger hangman knotting his rope
the hardest of hard cases
he will one day forge – yes forge
a new a rigid Europe
but for this stretch he’s on the far mar-
gins of a wrinkled no not a withered state
that’s broken at the head and hips
alone on the taiga
– a clanging bird somewhere –
he places a juniper berry on his lips
sucks then rolls it on his tongue
a tiny bit of gunge
it tastes quite deliciously bitter
now with one
one as yet undreaded hand
he scratches his head for a long long
time like a patient tiger
though in his best and worst dreams
this drunken shoemaker’s son
is Caesar inside a nutmeg or an almond
the king of infinite space
with the power to bring the world to an end
though all these four long years
he knows he has pitched his tent
upon a grain of sand

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN


Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences