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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 11: January 2022
Tanka Tale: 335 words
By Michael H. Lester

You Know, It Don’t Come Easy


Kozlov dons his moth-eaten V-neck sweater, the sleeves of which are too short, the patchless elbows worn through and thin as gossamer, the collar frayed, and the sky-blue color faded and riddled with splashes of carelessly applied bleach from the one time he tried to wash his badly stained bedsheets himself. The overcast sky, filled with dark gray clouds, threatens to burst into rainstorm at any moment, but Kozlov must go out and walk two miles to the magistrate to explain how it is that he was found to be in possession of a stolen manuscript worth tens of thousands of rubles in transit to the Museum of Scripts and Letters in Saint Petersburg on the fourteenth of November 1886. Kozlov has been rehearsing his fabricated alibi for the past twelve hours in the shower, at breakfast—boiled eggs and ham, and a glass of vodka—and at the mirror while brushing his teeth and trimming his overgrown mustache.

a package dropped
by a stranger on the run
I stuff it
under my V-neck sweater
and take the back way home

Itchikov, the magistrate, has had a bad day. His red and swollen index finger throbs from a painful hangnail, and one of his serfs has run off with his youngest daughter, his favorite of seven daughters, having hitched two of the finest mares to the new britzka, filled it with linens from the closet, silver and porcelain from the kitchen, and rubles from the bank, leaving long before sunup. His schedule for today is filled at every hour with some mundane matter, none as annoying or significant as his own trouble with Svetlana, the runaway, except for the case of Kozlov, a known thief and roustabout whose charm and penchant for airtight alibis has kept him from being sentenced to the labor camps.

in a rush
he steps over the cat
through the door
into a drizzle of rain
and the scent of ozone


—The first in a series of more than a dozen tanka tales, which the poet began writing in October 2021, about the rogue Kozlov and his intrepid nemesis, Itchikov the magistrate

Michael H. Lester
Issue 11, January 2022

is a CPA, attorney, and poet who lives in Los Angeles, California. His writing has been widely published in prestigious poetry journals, has been translated into several languages, and has won numerous awards worldwide. Michael’s recent publications include two illustrated children’s books, Cassandra and the Strange Tale of the Blue-Footed Boobies and Johnny and Frankie’s Summer Sleepover, as well as a book of poetry, Notes from a Commode: Volume I. A fourth book, The Squeeping Catterwhip, is now available on Amazon.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

25 Death Poems: Edited and Introduced by Michael H. Lester in Atlas Poetica

Birds Do It Better, haibun by Lester in Contemporary Haibun Online (January 2019, Volume 15, Number 2)

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