by louis simpson
Once, some people were visiting Chekhov.
While they made remarks about his genius
the Master fidgeted. Finally
he said, ‘Do you like chocolates?’
They were astonished, and silent.
He repeated the question
whereupon one lady plucked up her courage
and murmured shyly, ‘Yes.’
‘Tell me,’ he said, leaning forward,
light glinting from his spectacles,
‘what kind? The light, sweet chocolate
or the dark, bitter kind?’
The conversation became general.
They spoke of cherry centres,
of almonds and Brazil nuts.
Losing their inhibitions they interrupted one another.
For people may not know what they think
about politics in the Balkans,
or the vexed question of men and women,
but everyone has a definite opinion
about the flavour of shredded coconut.
Finally someone spoke of chocolates filled with liqueur,
and everyone, even the author of Uncle Vanya
was at a loss for words.
When they were leaving he stood by the door
and took their hands.
In the coach returning to Petersburg
they agreed that it had been a most