Antoine Wiertz, The Premature Burial (1854). Public domain
Friends, Russians, Countrymen, lend me
your ears … and your ear-muffs … and a helmet
if you have one; for it will be a long winter
should I find myself in a Crimean trench …
But to the task now figuratively at hand:
I come to bury Prigozhin, not to praise him,
nor dwell upon his three medals “For Merit to
the Fatherland” awarded by the Kremlin.
The evil that men do lives after them,
the good is oft interred with their bones:
if, course, those bones can be identified,
a task that might prove somewhat difficult
when they’ve fallen thirty thousand feet
after a mid-flight explosion.
Our leader, an honorable man, has opined
Prigozhin suffered a complicated fate;
that’s plenty clear, though we might say his fall’s
a tale as old as time and as simple:
hubris leading one to fly too near the sun,
or a surface-to-air missile launcher …
A criminal turned caterer turned patriot,
Prigozhin rose like cream to the lip
of the milk pail, or the scum that forms
atop a vat of boiling pinecone jam.
O how the man called Putin’s Chef cooked up
all sorts of trouble for the decadent West
and the fascists of Ukraine! A clever chap,
Prigozhin recruited hardened criminals
and psychopaths for Wagner—the private army
named in honor of the German maestro’s
anti-Semitism rather than
his fiery genius. Yevgeny’s men loved him
like the father they never had or rather
swiftly fled after a drunken brawl,
and in turn his men to him were like
those choice cuts that he fed into
his meat grinder back in those salad days
when he was the Kremlin’s favored cook:
long before he chose to criticize
our generals and even had the chutzpah—
if I may use that term regardless of
the irony—to turn his tanks toward Moscow,
and put our judo-loving Commandant
on his back foot! But this is ancient history,
and as I think I said before I come
to bury Prigozhin, not to praise him.
So perhaps it’s best not to make too much
of either how he lived or how he died,
if indeed he really ever was alive.
Prigozhin … now who was he again?
Peter Nohrnberg’s poem “A Backward Look” will appear in a forthcoming issue of Notre Dame Review.