About a week ago marked the 75th anniversary of the disappearance of Juliet Poyntz. She’s hardly a household word, but her story is not atypical of those highly-placed Communists who turned on their former colleagues.
Poyntz was a Barnard history professor and one of the founders of the American Communist Party, who worked for a while for the prototype of the KGB. Like many others (but not enough others), she became disillusioned with Communism during the 30s when Stalin’s excesses became more obvious. She disappeared not long after that, and the case has never been solved.
Fast forward to now. Kevin Higgins is a contemporary Irish poet who, like so many other poets, started out on the far left—but unlike most of them, he’s moved somewhat rightwards. Although it’s only “somewhat” rightwards, “somewhat” is way too much for many on the left, and as a result he has dealt with some ire from former fellow travelers.
Although I “know” Higgins, I’ve never met him; we’ve corresponded from time to time (one of the best perks of the blogosphere is hearing from people such as Higgins). He’s written the following poem in remembrance of Juliet Poyntz’s disappearance:
for Juliet Poyntz (1886-1937)
You deliver envelopes
you must under no circumstances open
to men whose names you never ask
in hotel lobbies in Baltimore, Copenhagen,
Shanghai… No one you know has seen
you in three years. On a New York street
you happen upon an old friend, you used to
like to disagree with – those
big opinioned, diner nights
you can’t quite forget – talk over
your new found
disgust: the white-walled cells
into which you’ve seen people
you call ‘comrade’ one by one vanish
to be kept awake all night
under extreme electric light. Over coffee
you are full of
the book you’re planning to write.
Already evening. Earlier today,
at a chateau in central France,
Edward married Mrs Simpson.
You leave your room at
353 West 57th Street
to buy The New York Times
or some Lucky Strike
cigarettes. No luggage
nor extra clothes. Behind you,
everything you own.
A solitary candle
Buried in the upstate woods
or smuggled aboard a tanker bound for
Archangel, Leningrad, Vladivostok…
You are never heard of again.