Those are the three angels, he said,
hosted by Abraham, painted by Rublev
around fourteen hundred.
You see how their wings arch
like storm clouds punched clean
by each gilt halo, by each halcyon feather —
such a treasure! and yet some say
this is not the original here in the Tretyakov,
but that a duplicitous docent
put up to it, who knows?
by a handsome benefactor, arranged
to have it brought out at night, between shifts.
A moonless night, gentlemen,
the streets wet, silvery wet,
the discriminating collector waiting in a black car
smoking black Sobranies with gilt foils:
the slim ones, made for women
but preferred by him;
he tapped the window with a cane
and the driver, after we — after we, ha! absurd!
(after they, I should say)
received the package, sped away.
The streets were silver wet, the stubs
of cigarettes on the ground, only metres
from the Kremlin.
Think of it — the gold foil,
the gold spires, under the paper
the three angelic heads still shining
after all these years of soot and smoke!
And the sound of the Chaika,
the rumble of that perfect engine
on the cobbles, fading exquisitely
into the night — but I rattle on, eh?
To coffee! A short break
before we return to the bank perhaps?
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