For Lara

I’m wearing my fur hat like a patriarch’s
klobuk, as if it conferred the privilege
of entering the museum by a side door.

Igor Borisovich lets us in. He’s Leo Tolstoy,
he’s a dancing bear, Russian as an iconostasis
from Novgorod, or the Church on Spilled Blood.

We’ve climbed to an attic overlooking the Neva
and you ask if your handbag will be safe
on the floor. He says, We leave Leonardos there.

Who’d ever know it’s a Madonna on his easel?
She’s like a tinted window in a stretch-limo,
or slice of toast covered in Marmite.

Peeled off her bed of oak during the dark ages
and laid on canvas, like a sliver of skin
grafted to a burn or logo on a t-shirt.

It was the sturgeon’s air-bladders
that stuck her down, soaked in water,
blended with honey and squeezed to a pulp,

then warmed, like a delicacy taken
at the Mariinskiy between acts.
Note the properties of whitefish glue, he says,

that make it a perfect icon for our State – plastic
like perestroika, yet strong as the Kremlin wall,
and good at penetrating into small crevices.