Living in a cottage in Berkeley, so quiet, electricity buzzing in the walls kept me awake, one night I was given a ticket to a performance by the great Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko. But a storm was brewing, and I only had a small motorcycle for transportation.

    Listening all night to electric poems hummed inside the walls.

Last night I finally got to hear Yevtushenko read. Waving his arms histrionically, his deep voice was weighted with centuries of suffering. Humorous, too, when he spoke of growing old: "My wife is much younger than me. Her exact age is a family secret."

In 1961, Yevtushenko published "Babii Yar," risking exile, or worse—

No monument stands over Babii Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.
I am afraid.
Today I am as old in years
as all the Jewish people.
I see myself now
a Jew...

When a teenager, I recited "Babii Yar" to friends, and its power is one reason I became a poet. Tonight I remember the tremors from those words that ran through my spine. 

Sitting in the audience, I tried to understand the thalamus is not only a relay station, it is a rigorous checkpoint where arriving sensory signals are carefully sorted, checked, and very selectively relayed to appropriate cortical areas to compete for the soulful rhythms of his language, as I finally completed that stormy night in Berkeley, 35 years ago.

 

 

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