The Russian Soldier's Story (Landscape with Poppies)


He hadn't joined the army for this, to be told to strip down, to be shaved hairless everywhere with an old man's blade as he stood somewhere in Afghanistan, his comrades waiting. Run, they said and he did, black dust kicking up around him from the blur of red beneath his feet. They called him back and scraped the fuzz from his body with the same sharp blade to cook the opium down. His pores opened up to it and he passed out in the field of red.

* * *


I don't know if people tell me their stories because there's something about me--maybe I look like a good listener--or because they simply have stories to tell. Maybe they tell stories often, to anyone who will listen. Maybe they are just repeating the same old tales and half-truths, embellished to impress their audience.

But I remember their stories, and in an age where oral histories have given way to blog posts and tweets, I value listening to the voice, the rise and fall of it, the intentional pauses while the teller waits for my reaction. I watch the hands move, the body lean in or away, the eyes make contact.

I heard this guy's story in the late 1980's. Did he have any idea that night, in the middle of a loud party, that I would hang on every word and imagine myself painting it for nearly two decades? He was an amazing storyteller, and I wonder if he's met other painters who have recreated his field of red.

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