Rule of the Plowman

Howard Grady Brown

[January 2005.]

 

In that place where nothing was permitted, everything
mattered. Certain notes on the E-flat clarinet
could grate upon ungrateful ears.

The Plowman

might decide to publish his displeasure. Then a man
would disappear; his compositions, reference to his life
and work, his name, all that was

of him

would vanish. His wife, removed to Khabarovsk, in time remarried;
his children forgot his face. After twenty years the man
returned, but not to Moscow. No,

internal exile

dumped him in a town between the Volga and the Don,
where he became director of the local concert band.
Everyone understood

he knew

a lot about the E-flat clarinet. It’s no surprise
that, during the Eleventh Symphony’s dress rehearsal,
Maxim Shostakovich whispered,

“Papa,

what if they hang you for this?”

 

[Plowman was an irreverent nickname for Josef Stalin, see The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cast of Characters preceding the first chapter (current ed. Northwestern University Press); for Maxim’s concerns see Shostakovich, A Life Remembered by Elizabeth Wilson (Princeton University Press, p. 317).]