Osip and Borisby David Slavitt
Pasternak told him:
It is not literature, it is not poetry. It is suicide.
Osip Emilievich nevertheless continued to recite his poem
about how Stalin was a mustached cockroach.
(For this, he needed advice?)
But do cockroaches
have mustaches? You have to know the Chukovsky poem
about the huge mustachioed cockroach the forest fears
until a brave sparrow comes and devours him with a deft peck.
So? Would the crude Georgian have slapped his thigh,
laughing and therefore at least in part approving?
What he does is surprising. He picks up the phone and calls,
at two in the morning, to ask Comrade Pasternak
if Mandelstam is any good? A master?
But Mandelstam's colleague and worried pal,
gives an equivocal answer. Stalin hangs up.
The advice Boris had offered was incomplete:
Be careful what you write, but that's a given;
be very careful about who reads what you've written,
and learn not to trust too much in friends like me.