The Poet and the Spy

J. Michael Willard
4 min readOct 21, 2021

By Michael Willard

I looked up at the portrait of Maria Sosiura, surrounded as it was by a menagerie of tributes to her husband, Vladimir, a poet of the Russian revolution.

In my thoughts, I embraced the stillness and whisperings of the writer’s cavernous study.

Maria looked pleasant enough but still somewhat severe. It was hard to think this was a woman once known as an agent for the NKVD, the secret police, and one who tattled on writers who had less than fawning Soviet thoughts.

But, for sure, she was no Mata Hari. Her husband had romanticized her in rhyme such that one might expect a heroine in dark cloak, lace veil, and perhaps, a Victorian fan over a partially hidden face.

At the time, I thought, Maria must be wondering why I was sitting at her husband’s walnut desk, smoking a pipe and huddled over a flickering computer screen. There was also, most likely, a tumbler of Jack Daniels at the ready.

The year was 1996. A winter storm had paid Kyiv a visit.

I gazed upon this woman who not only snitched on her husband and other writers but was so duplicitous and careless to end up herself in a prison camp in the Urals for three years. She personified the saying: “Loose lips sink ships.”

She spied on writers who were not sufficiently fervent in the cause and who, at the same time, gave a nod to her husband’s nationalist leaning. The Stalinist times were dangerous for the cultural elite, the artists, the wordsmiths.

I occupied this third-floor real estate, paying $1,200 a month for the privilege. Sosiura, the poet, died in 1965, and his wife the year before I took up residence in the stone building.

Only ghosts and I held forth in the vaulted ceiling rooms filled with antique relics and contradictory memories. I pondered the question: Was Maria a sorceress who seduced friend and foe, or was she a loving wife?

Hard to tell. The research was sketchy. Maria was a rather mediocre freelance agent for NKVD.

Her husband was a Ukrainian patriot. Like many literary personages, he had to thread the needle of his conscience, mainly keeping his own counsel. However, Vladimir was a talkative sort.

That caution naturally became infinitely more difficult when sleeping with the enemy. His written words: “I was shadowed by death. It was wearing yellow shoes, a light…

J. Michael Willard

I am a novelist but my day job is utilizing my years as a business consultant, journalist, and public service in the field of international development.