I have wanted to write to you for years. I kept putting it off, pushing away the pen, the precious, hard to find paper, promising myself that I would soon sit down and do so, telling myself over and over again that I was really not the great writer as you, telling myself over and over again that I was wasting a key resource thinking I had something important to say.
However, just yesterday, the day after my 90th birthday, the day before the 80th year since your death, it was on that day that the light came, and I knew it was time to write you.
You have cast a long shadow over my life, Father; yet I never felt that I fully understood you, or your century, or your grand obsessions, or even your deep love for my mother.
How could it have happened? She, a poor immigrant from the grand heart of Russia, a former Communist.
“Ah, yes!” Mother said to me shortly before she died, now not the beautiful, 39 year old woman you fell in love with, but a tiny, wizen, frail, drawn old lady, with less then a year to live, and only three years before the Big Bang.
“Ah, yes!” she croaked again, now with a slight, subtle touch of theatrical flair. It was on that last ‘ah, yes’ that I knew she was still an actress, as old as she was. She wasn’t fooling me.
Her worn, cracked face suddenly came alive, and filled with delight at the old, pleasant memory. Her Russian accent, through now shaky, was still as heavy as always. “He asked ‘what was it like to be a Communist?”
“Yes, mother,” I replied as gently as possible, glad to see her smiling again, and not wanting to tire her by her telling me this story yet again.
“I remember reading one of his stories,” I said to her in Russian, the words I had read years ago coming back to me. “I knew it was you and him he was writing about. You just shook your lovely blond head and laughed a small laugh, revealing even, child-like teeth, and you said to him, ‘oh, Communist’.
“You laughed once again, eyeing him nervously, as if seeing him for the very first time, although you two worked closely together in a large department store selling ties. Yes, mother, I remember reading that.”
Dear Father, it is only through your writing that I really know you. You were an old dude when I was born. I know you tried your best, but you know that you were too old to take me to the park to play tennis, as all the other kids did with their father’s on the weekends.
And mother, she was also older than most moms, not as old as you were, obviously. But she looked after me, worked, and did her art, and worked some more. As you once wondered in one of your stories, did she really come all the way from mother Russia for this?
Mother was your long sought after Muse, however. Your brilliant, insightful writings after you met her testify to that. Even as I have gained the courage to write, I still do not fully understand the Muse.
What does it do to you, father? What was it that you found so wonderful, so magical in Mother that released so many wise words into the future, because all of those ideas are still very much a part of us today, at the dawn of yet another century. Maybe more so.
As my century nears its chaotic end, for many reasons I can't even begin to articulate, I now desperately want to understand yours, which is why I'm writing you.
Father, in many ways, your century was our great cross to bear. So much was released on the world. Capital ran wild. Greed had become the norm, and America made a bizarre transformation at the beginning of my century into a self-righteous, militaristic bully.
There have been all kinds of reasons given. Even today, if you can believe that, people are still trying to figure it out. You know what I think. I think it was television. I think it just made people stupid. But what do I know, Father. I wasn’t there. Still, most said it was because of September 11, which unknown at the time, foreshadowed much of what was to come.
I was not born yet when that horrible thing happened. But I know from watching history on television that September 11 only slowed down America, and if anything, made the international money class even stronger. Nothing could stop their onward march to completely dominate the planet.
The world had never seen anything quite like this, and for years was cowed and stunned into a passive silence and inaction, until finally, someone acted. But we will get to that later.
Mother loved Pushkin. But when you wanted to name me Alexander Pushkin Mother told me how hard she protested.
“No, no, no, no, no,” she said to you
“Why not,” you answered. “Pushkin was the great African-Russian, like my son will be, and Alexander was the great conqueror, like he will also be.”
“But that’s not Russian. It’s vulgar to combine names like that.”
“Well this ain’t Russia, dear.”
Mother said she just threw up her hands, and that’s why she named me Alexander Pushkin Litvinova, giving me her last name.
In the end, she didn’t care about proper Russian. She loved you so much. Maybe it was just your blackness she couldn’t help loving after spending so many cold, long lonely nights in her crowded flat in Moscow, dreaming of a dark, handsome Pushkin? And you were dark, indeed, not one of those washed out types
Now, she had found her own poetic Pushkin in, of all places, the unpoetic, material world of late 20th Century America.
But how romantic we Russians! Everyone else comes to America seeking to find a Millionaire. But Mother came to America and found a poet, a black poet, just like Pushkin. No wonder we Russians are open to big ideas like Communism; or are easily seduced by large notions of art, poetry and romantic love, unlike practical, material Americans.
I once asked Mother, “Isn’t it funny that we Russians were once raised on no God, but we still clung to beliefs in art and romantic love, even in the worse days of Communism and depredation of our faith; and blessed, rich Americans embraced God, but seems to believe in nothing that cannot be touched, or consumed.”
Mother just laughed. “You just like your father, Alex,” she said to me. She pointed at her head. “Always thinking. But you’re wrong. That’s American thinking.”
“What do you mean, Mother? What’s American thinking?”
“Russians are religious. We stayed religious. You can’t believe in love and art and not be religious.” She started nervously rubbing the little gold cross she always wore, eyeing me carefully.
I stood corrected. I understood her insight. She was really agreeing with me. I knew Communism couldn’t change a people’s basic nature, as Lenin foolishly believed. I just wasn’t as good at expressing ideas as you were.
There was also another major difference between me and you Father. Before the Big Change, I was a 21st Century man of action, not thought. Mother was only trying to make me feel good by saying I was just like you, always thinking. I was always thinking alright, but not about the kinds of things you thought about. There was action, and huge amounts of money to be had, and babes, nightlife.
All that race stuff that so concerned you didn’t mean that much anymore, as long as you got with the program
It is clear now, that your generation was the last one that dared to really think. I mean really think. Before the Big Change, after I left college, I would only occasionally pick up one of your books, or any book for that matter, and then only to please Mother. I wasn’t alone. None of us read even the few newspapers that were left, and all that pointless noise online, which was solely in the hands of the elites—was something to avoid like the plague.
Besides, other than movie crap, so much of the stuff the few people who did still read and write was about the so-called “lessons” of Sept. 11 and the long wars that followed. Who needed that shit!
Now at 90, I have finally gotten the courage, and have broken the curse of my generation, and all the generations that came after us. And you know what, Father, it feels damn good so far!
I think I have become the great Alexander Pushkin, just as you and Mother wanted me to become when you named me. Finally! At last!
How clever, how literary, how terrible artful, Father: You, a so-called African-American; your lovely Muse, a Russian, a former Communist, an actress, a belly dancer, a romantic, a dreamer of big dreams—to name me Alexander Pushkin.
Now I see why, Father! Now I am ready at last to live up to my name. I feel the pulse of the New World in every vein of my body, as much as the part black Pushkin felt the very pulse of Russia, as he defined the Russian soul.
I am ready, Father.