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By John Haines

Facing the wind of the avenues

one spring evening in New York,

I wore under my thin jacket

a sweater given me by the wife

of a genial Manchurian.

The warmth in that sweater changed

the indifferent city block by block.

The buildings were mountains

that fled as I approached them.

The traffic became sheep and cattle

milling in muddy pastures.

I could feel around me the large

movements of men and horses.

It was spring in Siberia or Mongolia,

wherever I happened to be.

Rough but honest voices called to me

out of that solitude:

they told me we are all tired

of this coiling weight,

the oppression of a long winter;

that it was time to renew our life,

burn the expired contracts,

elect new governments.

The old Imperial sun has set,

and I must write a poem to the Emperor.

I shall speak it like the man

I should be, an inhabitant of the frontier,

clad in sweat-darkened wool,

my face stained by wind and smoke.

Surely the Emperor and his court

will want to know what a fine

and generous revolution begins tomorrow

in one of his remote provinces…


"The Sweater of Vladimir Ussachevsky". Copyright © 1993 by John Haines. Reprinted from The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Source: The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer: Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 1993)

  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

John Haines
John Haines was born in Norfolk, Virginia and attended the National Art School in Washington, DC, American University, Hans Hoffmann School of Fine Art, and the University of Washington. He lived and worked in Alaska for years as a hunter, gardener, fisherman, trapper, and homesteader before being named the state’s Poet Laureate in 1969. In 1997, Haines was named a Fellow by the Academy of American Poets, and he has received a lifetime achievement award from the Library of Congress. See More By This Poet

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