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Joseph Brodsky. Poems

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Joseph Brodsky (1940-96) came to the United States in 1972, an involuntary exile from the Soviet Union. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987 and served as Poet Laureate of the United States in 1991 and 1992.
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Belfast Tune

        Here's a girl from a dangerous town
                She crops her dark hair short
        so that less of her has to frown
                when someine gets hurt.

        She folds her memories like a parachute.
                Dropped, she collects the peat
        and cooks her veggies at home: they shoot
                here where they eat.

        Ah, there's more sky in these parts than, say,
                ground. Hence her voice's pitch,
        and her stare stains your retina like a gray
                bulb when you switch

        hemispheres, and her knee-length quilt
                skirt's cut to catch the squal,
        I dream of her either loved or killed
                because the town's too small.

0

2

Elegy

About a year has passed. I've returned to the place of the battle,
to its birds that have learned their unfolding of wings
                                                 from a subtle
lift of a surprised eyebrow, or perhaps from a razor blade
- wings, now the shade of early twilight, now of state
                                                 bad blood.

Now the place is abuzz with trading
                        in your ankles's remanants, bronzes
of sunburnt breastplates, dying laughter, bruises,
rumors of fresh reserves, memories of high treason,
laundered banners with imprints of the many
                                        who since have risen.

All's overgrown with people. A ruin's a rather stubborn
architectural style. And the hearts's distinction
                                from a pitch-black cavern
isn't that great; not great enough to fear
that we may collide again like blind eggs somewhere.

At sunrise, when nobody stares at one's face, I often,
set out on foot to a monument cast in molten
lengthy bad dreams. And it says on the plinth "commander
in chief." But it reads "in grief," or "in brief,"
                                        or "in going under."

1985

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3

Folk Tune

It's not that the Muse feels like clamming up,
it's more like high time for the lad's last nap.
And the scarf-waving lass who wished him the best
drives a steamroller across his chest.

And the words won't rise either like that rod
or like logs to rejoin their old grove's sweet rot,
and, like eggs in the frying pan, the face
spills its eyes all over the pillowcase.

Are you warm tonight under those six veils
in that basin of yours whose strung bottom wails;
where like fish that gasp at the foreign blue
my raw lip was catching what then was you?

I would have hare's ears sewn to my bald head,
in thick woods for your sake I'd gulp drops of lead,
and from black gnarled snags in the oil-smooth pond
I'd bob up to your face as some Tirpitz won't.

But it's not on the cards or the waiter's tray,
and it pains to say where one's hair turns gray.
There are more blue veins than the blood to swell
their dried web, let alone some remote brain cell.

We are parting for good, my friend, that's that.
Draw an empty circle on your yellow pad.
This will be me: no insides in thrall.
Stare at it a while, then erase the scrawl.

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4

From nowhere with love the enth of Marchember sir
sweetie respected darling but in the end
it's irrelevant who for memory won't restore
features not yours and no one's devoted friend
greets you from this fifth last part of earth
resting on whalelike backs of cowherding boys
I loved you better than angels and Him Himself
and am farther off due to that from you than I am from both
of them now late at night in the sleeping vale
in the little township up to its doorknobs in
snow writhing upon the stale
sheets for the whole matter's skin-
deep I'm howling "youuu" through my pillow dike
many seas aways that are milling nearer
with my limbs in the dark playing your double like
an insanity-stricken mirror.

1975

(перевод "...ниоткуда с любовью, надцатого мартобря")

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5

Letter to an Archaeologist

Citizen, enemy, mama's boy, sucker, utter
garbage, panhandler, swine, refujew, verrucht;
a scalp so often scalded with boiling water
that the puny brain feels completely cooked.
Yes, we have dwelt here: in this concrete, brick, wooden
rubble which you now arrive to sift.
All our wires were crossed, barbed, tangled, or interwoven.
Also: we didn't love our women, but they conceived.
Sharp is the sound of pickax that hurts dead iron;
still, it's gentler that what we've been told or have said ourselves.
Stranger! move carefully through our carrion:
what seems carrion to you is freedom to our cells.
Leave our names alone. Don't reconstruct those vowels,
consonants, and so forth: they won't resemble larks
but a demented bloodhound whose maw devours
its own traces, feces, and barks, and barks.

1983

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6

Stone Villages

The stone-built villages of England.
A cathedral bottled in a pub window.
Cows dispersed across fields.
Monuments to kings.

A man in a moth-eaten suit
sees a train off, heading, like everything here, for the sea,
smiles at his daughter, leaving for the East.
A whistle blows.

And the endless sky over the tiles
grows bluer as swelling birdsong fills.
And the clearer the song is heard,
the smaller the bird.

1975-6

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7

To Urania

                                To I.K.

        Everything has its limit, including sorrow.
        A windowpane stalls a stare. Nor does a grill abandon
        a leaf. One may rattle the keys, gurgle down a swallow.
        Loneless cubes a man at random.
        A camel sniffs at the rail with a resentful nostril;
        a perspective cuts emptiness deep and even.
        And what is space anyway if not the
        body's absence at every given
        point? That's why Urania's older sister Clio!
        in daylight or with the soot-rich lantern,
        you see the globe's pate free of any bio,
        you see she hides nothing, unlike the latter.
        There they are, blueberry-laden forests,
        rivers where the folk with bare hands catch sturgeon
        or the towns in whose soggy phone books
        you are starring no longer; father eastward surge on
        brown mountain ranges; wild mares carousing
        in tall sedge; the cheeckbones get yellower
        as they turn numerous. And still farther east, steam dreadnoughts
                                                        or cruisers,
        and the expanse grows blue like lace underwear.

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Bosnia Tune (Originally written in English - it and down are)

        As you pour yourself a scotch,
        crush a roach, or check your watch,
        as your hand adjusts your tie,
        people die.

        In the towns with funny names,
        hit by bullets, cought in flames,
        by and large not knowing why,
        people die.

        In small places you don't know
        of, yet big for having no
        chance to scream or say good-bye,
        people die.

        People die as you elect
        new apostles of neglect,
        self-restraint, etc. -- whereby
        people die.

        Too far off to practice love
        for thy neighbor/brother Slav,
        where your cherubds dread to fly,
        people die.

        While the statues disagree,
        Cain's version, history
        for its fuel tends to buy
        those who die.

        As you watch the athletes score,
        check your latest statement, or
        sing your child a lullaby,
        people die.

        Timee, whose sharp blood-thirsty quill
        parts the killed from those who kill,
        will pronounce the latter tribe
        as your tribe.

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9

History of the Twentieth Century (A Roadshow)

               The Sun's in its orbit,
               yet I feel morbid.

            Act 1

            Prologue

        Ladies and gentlemen and the day!
        All ye made of sweet human clay!
        Let me tell you: you are o'kay.

        Our show is to start without much delay.
        So let me inform you right away:
        this is not a play but the end of the play

        that has been on for some eighty years.
        It received its boos and received its cheers.
        It won't last for long, one fears.

        Men and machines lie to rest or rust.
        Nothing arrives as quick as the Past.
        What we'll show you presently is the cast

        of characters who have ceased to act.
        Each of these lives has become a fact
        from which you presumably can subtract

        but to which you blissfully cannot add.
        The consequences of that could be bad
        for your looks or your blood.

        For they are the cause, you are the effect.
        because they lie flat, you are still erect.
        Citizens! Don't neglect

        history! History holds the clue
        to your taxes and to your flu,
        to what comes out of the blue.

        We'll show you battlefields, bedrooms, labs,
        sinking ships and escaping subs,
        cradles, weddings, divorces, slabs.

        Folks! The curtain's about to rise!
        What you'll see won't look like a Paradise.
        Still, the Past may moisten a pair of eyes,

        for its prices were lower than our sales,
        for it was ruining cities: not blood cells;
        for on the horizon it's not taut sails

        but the wind that fails.

        1900. A quiet year, you bet.
        True: none of you is alive as yet.
        The '00' stands for the lack of you.
        Still, things are happening, quite a few.
        In China, the Boxers are smashing whites.
        In Russia, A.P.Chekhov writes.
        In Italy, Floria Tosca screams.
        Freud, in Vienna, interprets dreams.
        The Impressionists paint, Rodin still sculpts.
        In Africa, Boers grab the British scalps
        or vice versa (who cares, my dear?).
        And McKinley is re-elected here.
        There are four great empires, three good democracies.
        The rest of the world sports loin-cloths and moccasins,
        speaking both figuratively and literally.
        Upstaging "Umberto's" in Little Italy,
        in the big one Umberto the Ist's shot dead.
        (Not all that's written on walls is read).
        And marking the century's real turn,
        Friedrich Nietzsche dies, Louis Armstrong's born
        to refute the great Kraut's unholy
        "God is dead" with "Hello, Dolly."

        The man of the year, though, is an engineer.
        John Browning is his name.
        He's patented something. So let us hear
        about John's claim to fame.

            ( John Moses Browning )

        "I looked at the calendar, and I saw
        that there are a hundred years to go.
        That made me a little nervous
        for I thought of my neighbors.
        I've multiplied them one hundred times:
        it came to them being all over!
        So I went to my study that looks out on limes
        and invented this cute revolver!"

        1901. A swell, modest time.
        A T-bone steak is about a dime.
        Queen Victoria dies; but then Australia
        repeats her silhouette and, inter alia,
        joins the Commonwealth. In the humid woods
        of Tahiti, Gauguin paints his swarthy nudes.
        In China, the Boxers take the rap.
        Max Planck in his lab (not on his lap
        yet) in studying radiation.
        Verdi dies too. But our proud nation,
        represented by Mrs.Disney, awards the world
        with a kid by the name of Walt
        who'll animate the screen. Off screen,
        the British launch their first submarine.
        But it's a cake-walk or a Strindberg play
        or Freud's "Psychopathology of Everyday
        Life" that really are not to be missed!
        And McKinley's shot dead by an anarchist.

        The man of the year is Signore Marconi.
        He is an Italian, a Roman.
        His name prophetically rhymes with "Sony":
        they have a few things in common.

            ( Guglieimo Marconi )

        "In a Catholic country where the sky is blue
        and clouds look like cherubs' vestiges,
        one daily receives through the air a few
        wordless but clear messages.
        Regular speech has its boring spoils:
        it leads to more speech, to violence,
        it looks like spaghetti, it also coils.
        That's why I've built the wireless!"

        1902. Just another bland
        peaceful year. They dissect a gland
        and discover hormones. And a hormone
        once discovered is never gone.
        The Boer War (ten thousand dead) is over.
        Elsewhere, kind Europeans offer
        railroad chains to a noble savage.
        A stork leaves a bundle in a Persian cabbage
        patch, and the tag reads "Khomeini". Greeks, Serbs, Croats,
        and Bulgars are at each others' throats.
        Claude Monet paints bridges nevertheless.
        The population of the U.S.
        is approximately 76
        million: all of them having sex
        to affect our present rent.
        Plus Teddy Roosevelt's the President.

        The man of the year is Arthur Conan Doyle,
        a writer. The subjects of his great toil
        are a private dick and a paunchy doc;
        occasionally, a dog.

            ( Sir Arthur Conan Doyle )

        "Imagine the worst: your subconscious is
        as dull as your conscience. And you, a noble
        soul, grab a Luger and make Swiss cheese
        out of your skull. Better take my novel
        about the Hound of the Baskervilles!
        It'll save a handful of your brain cells
        and beef up your dreams. For it simply kills
        time and somebody else!"

        1903. You may start to spy
        on the future. Old Europe's sky
        is a little dim. To increase its dimness,
        The Krupp Works in Essen erect their chimneys.
        (Thus the sense of Geld breeds the sense of guilt.)
        Still, more smoke comes from London, from a smoke-filled
        room where with guile and passion
        Bolsheviks curse Mensheviks in Russian.
        Speaking of Slavs: The Serbian King and Queen
        are done by local well-wishers in.
        Painters Whistler, Gauguin, Pissarro are gone.
        Panama rents us its Canal Zone.
        While bidding their maidens bye-bye and cheerio,
        the tommies sail off to grab Nigeria
        and turn it into a British colony:
        to date, a nation's greatest felony
        is if it's neither friend nor foe.
        My father is born. So is Evelyn Waugh.

        Man of the year, I am proud to say
        is two men. They are brothers. Together, they
        sport two heads, four legs and four hands-which brings
        us to their bird's four wings.

            ( The Wright Brothers )

        "We are Orville and Wilbur Wright.
        Our name simply rhymes with 'flight'!
        This may partially explain
        why we decided to build a plane.
        Oh there are no men in the skies, just wind!
        Cities look like newspaper print.
        Mountains glitter and rivers bend.
        But the ultimate plane'd rather bomb than land!"

        1904. Things which were in store
        hit the counter. There is a war.
        Japan, ever so smiling, gnashes
        teeth and bites off what, in fact, in Russia's.
        Other than that, in Milan police
        crack local skulls. But more common is
        the touch of the new safety razor blade.
        The nuances of the White Slave Trade,
        Mount St.Victoire by Monsieur Cezanne
        and other trifles under the sun
        including popular French disgust
        with the Vatican, are discussed
        in every Partisan cafeteria.
        Radioactivity - still a theory -
        is stated by Rutherford (when a particle
        brings you a lordship we call it practical).
        And as the first Rolls Royce engines churn,
        Chekhov dies but Graham Greene is born,
        so is George Balanchine, to upgrade the stage,
        so too - though it's sin to disclose her age -
        is Miss Dietrich, to daunt the screen.
        And New York hears its subway's first horrid scream!

        The man of the year is a Hottentot.
        South-West Africa's where he dwells.
        In a German colony. And is being taught
        German. So he rebels.

            ( A Hottentot )

        "Germans to me are extremely white.
        They are white in broad daylight and what's more, at night.
        Plus if you try to win minds and hearts
        of locals, you don't call a black guy "schwarz" -
        "Schwarz" sounds shoddy and worse than "black".
        Change your language and then come back!
        Fly, my arrow, and hit a Hans
        to cure a Hans of his arrogance!"

        1905. In the news: Japan.
        Which means that the century is upon
        us. Diminishing the lifespan
        of Russian dreadnoughts to naught, Japan
        tells urbi et orbi it's loathe to lurk
        in the wings of geography. In Petersburg
        those whose empty stomachs churn
        take to the streets. Yet they won't return
        home, for the Cossacks adore long streets.
        A salesman of the Singer sewing devices greets
        in Latvia the arrival of yet another
        daughter, who is to become my mother.
        In Spain, unaware of this clever ploy,
        Pablo Picasso depicts his "Boy
        With Pipe" in blue. While the shades of blonde,
        Swedes and Norwegians, dissolve their bond.
        And Norway goes independent; yet
        that's not enough to turn brunette.
        Speaking of things that sound rather queer,
        E is equated to MC square
        by Albert Einstein, and the Fauvists
        (Les Fauves is the French for unruly beasts)
        unleash Henri Matisse in Paris.
        "The Merry Widow" by Franz Lehar is
        the toast of the town. Plus Transvaal gets its
        constitution called by the natives "the pits".
        And Greta Garbo, La belle dame sans
        merci, is born. So are neon signs.

        The man of the year, our record tells,
        is neither Strindberg nor H.G.Wells,
        he is not Albert Schweitzer, not Oscar Wilde:
        his name is obscured by his own brain-child.

            ( Camouflage )

        "I am what gentleman wear in the field
        when they are afraid that they may be killed.
        I am called camouflage. Sporting me, each creature
        feels both safer and close to Nature.
        The green makes your simper's pupil sore.
        That's what forests and swamps are for.
        The planet itself wears me: the design
        is as French as it is divine."

        1906. Time stands at ease.
        Having one letter in common with
        his subject, Freud adds to our bookshelf
        preparing the century for itself.
        On the whole, Europeans become much nicer
        to each other: in Africa. Still, the Kaiser
        when asked of the growth of his navy, lies.
        The Japs, for some reason, nationalize
        their railroads of whose existence none,
        save several spices, had known.
        Along the same, so to speak cast-iron
        lines, aping the rod of Aaron,
        the Simplon Tunnel opens to hit your sight
        with a smoking non-stop Vis-a-vis. Aside
        from that the civilized world condemns
        night shifts (in factories though) for dames.
        Prime ministers are leapfrogging in
        Russia, as though they've seen
        in a crystal ball that the future keeps
        no room for these kinds of leaps.
        The French Government warily says "pardon"
        to Captain Dreyfus, a Jew who's done
        ten years in the slimmer on the charge of treason.
        Still, this distinction between a prison
        and a Jew has no prophetic air.
        The U.S. troops have a brief affair
        with the Island of Cuba: their first tete-a-tete.
        Samuel Beckett is born. Paul Cezanne is dead.

        The man of the year is Herr von Pirquet.
        He stings like honey-bee.
        The sting screams like Prince Hamlet's sick parakeet:
        TB or not TB.

            ( Dr. Clement von Pirquet )

        "What I call allergy, you call rash.
        I'll give you an analogy: each time you blush,
        it shows you're too susceptible to something lurid,
        obscene and antiseptical to hope to cure it.
        This, roughly, is the principle that guides my needle.
        To prove you are invincible it hurts a little;
        it plucks from your pale cheeks the blooming roses
        and checks their petals for tuberculosis!"

        As for 1907, it's neither here
        not there. But Auden is born this year!
        This birth is the greatest of all prologues!
        Still, Pavlov gets interested in dogs.
        Next door Mendeleev, his bearded neighbor
        who gave the universe the table
        of its elements, slips into a coma.
        The Cubists' first show, while Oklahoma
        becomes the Union's 46th
        state. Elsewhere New Zeland seeks
        to fly the Union Jack. Lumiere
        develops the colored pictures ere
        anyone else (we all owe it to him!)
        The Roman Pope takes a rather dim
        view of modernism: jealous Iago!
        Having squashed (4-0) Detroit, Chicago
        forever thirsting for Gloria Mundi
        wins the World Series. In Swinemunde
        Nicholas the IInd meets the German Kaiser
        for a cup of tea. That, again, is neither
        here not there, like Kalamazoo.
        And Carl Hagenbeck opens his careless zoo
        where walruses swim, lions pace, birds fly
        proving: animals also can live a lie.

        The man of the year, you won't believe,
        is Joseph Stalin, then just a tried.
        He is young; he is twenty-eight;
        but History's there, and he cannot wait.

            ( Joseph Dzhugashvili, alias Stalin )

        "My childhood was rotten, I lived in mud.
        I hold up banks 'cause I miss my dad.
        So to help the party, for all my troubles
        one day I took four hundred grand in roubles.
        Thus far, it was the greatest heist
        in the Russian history after Christ.
        Some call me eager, some call me zealous;
        I just like big figures with their crowd of zeroes."

        1908 is a real bore
        though it provides a new high in gore
        by means of an earthquake in the Southern part
        of Calabria, Italy. Still, the world of art
        tries to replace those one hundred fifty
        thousand victims with things as nifty
        as Monet's depiction of the Ducal Palace
        in Venice, or with Isadora's galas,
        or with the birth of Ian Fleming: to fill the crater.
        In the World Series Chicago's again a winner.
        In the Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina
        are taken by Austria (for what it took
        it will pay somewhat later with its Archduke).
        And the fountain pen is in vogue worldwide.
        The gas of helium's liquefied
        in Holland which means the rising of
        that flat country a bit above
        sea level, which means thoughts vertical.
        The king and the crown prince are killed in Portugal,
        for horizontality's sake no doubt.
        Also, the first Model T is out
        in Dearborn to roam our blissful quarters
        trailed by the news that General Motors
        is incorporated. The English Edward
        and Russia's Nicholas make an effort
        to know each other aboard a yacht.
        The Germans watch it but don't react -
        or do, but that cannot be photographed.
        And the Republic calls on William Taft.

        The man of the year is German scientist
        Paul Ehrlich. He digs bacterias
        and sires immunology. All the sapiens
        owe a lot to his theories.

            ( Paul Ehrlich )

        "The world is essentially a community
        and to syphilis, nobody has immunity.
        So what I've invented beefs up your arsenal
        for living a life that's a bit more personal.
        I've made Salvarsan. Oh my Salvarsan!
        It may cure your wife, it may cure your son,
        it may cure yourself and your mistress fast.
        Think of Paul Ehrlich as you pull or thrust!"

        1909 trots a fine straight line.
        Three Lives are published by Gertrude Stein.
        (On the strength of this book, if its author vies
        for the man of the year, she sure qualifies.)
        Other than that, there is something murky
        about the political life in Turkey:
        in those parts, every man has a younger brother,
        and as Sultans they love to depose each other.
        The same goes apparently in Iran:
        Ahmed Shah tells Mohammed Ali: "I run
        the show", though he's 12 years old.
        In Paris, Sergei Diaghilev strikes gold
        with his "Ballets Russes". While in Honduras,
        screaming the usual "God, endure us!"
        peasants slaughter each other: it's a civil war.
        Sigmund Freud crosses the waters for
        to tell our Wonderland's cats and Alices
        a few things about psychoanalysis.
        But David Griffith of Motion Pictures,
        boggling one's dreams, casts Mary Pickford.
        The Brits, aping the Royal Dutch
        Shell Company, too, legalize their touch
        on the Persian oil. The Rockefeller
        Foundation is launched to stall a failure
        and to boost a genus. Leaving all the blight,
        glitter and stuff made of Bake light
        (that heralds the Plastic Age) far below, the weary
        bearded and valiant Captain Robert Peary
        reaches the North Pole, and thus subscribes
        virginal white to the Stars and Stripes.
        Ah those days when one's thoughts were glued
        to this version of the Absolute!

        The man of the year is the unknown
        nameless hairdresser in London Town.
        Stirred either by its cumulous firmament
        or by the British anthem, he invents the permanent.

            ( A London hairdresser )

        "The Sun never sets over this Empire.
        Still, all empires one day expire.
        They go to pieces, they get undone.
        The wind of history is no fun.
        Let England be England and rule the waves!
        And let those waves be real raves.
        Let them be dark, red, chestnut, blonde
        unruffled by great events beyond!"

        1910 marks the end of the first decade.
        As such, it can definitely be okayed.
        For there is clearly a democratic
        trend. Though at times things take an erratic
        turn. Like when Egypt's Prime Minister, through no fault
        of his, gets murdered. But the revolt
        in Albania is the work of masses
        (although how they tell their oppressed from their ruling class is
        anyone's guess). Plus Portugal bravely rids
        itself of its king, and as he's hugged by the Brits,
        becomes a republic. As for the Brits themselves,
        one more generation of them learns God saves
        no king, and mourning the sad demise
        of Edward the Seventh, they fix their eyes
        on George the Fifth. Mark Twain and Tolstoy die too.
        But Karl May has just published his Winnetou
        in German. In Paris, they've seen and heard
        Stravinsky-cum-Diaghilev's "Firebird".
        That causes some riot, albeit a tiny one.
        Whereas the twangs of the Argentinean
        Tango do to the world what the feared and hailed
        Halley's comet, thank heavens, failed
        to do. And our watchful Congress
        finds it illegal if not incongruous
        to take ladies across state lines
        for purposes it declines
        to spell out, while Japan moves nearer
        to Korea: a face that invades a mirror.

        The man of the year is an architect.
        His name is Frank Lloyd Wright.
        Things that he's built still stand erect,
        nay! hug what they stand on tight.

            (Frank Lloyd Wright)

        "Nature and space have no walls or doors,
        and roaming at will is what man adores.
        So, a builder of houses, I decide
        to bring the outside inside.
        You don't build them tall: you build them flat.
        That's what Nature is so good at.
        You go easy on bricks and big on glass
        so that space may sashay your parquets like grass."

        1911 is wholly given
        to looking balanced albeit uneven.
        In Hamburg, stirring his nation's helm
        the German Kaiser (for you, Wilhelm
        the Second) demands what sounds weird for some:
        "A Place for Germany in the Sun".
        It you were French, you would say C'est tout.
        Yet Hitler is barely twenty-two
        and things in the sun aren't so hot besides.
        The activity of the sun excites
        the Chinese to abolish pigtails and then
        proclaim a republic with Sun Yat-Sen
        their first President. (Although how three hundred
        twenty-five millions can be handled
        by a Parliament, frankly, beats
        me. That is, how many seats
        would they have had in that grand pavilion?
        And even if it's just one guy per million
        what would a minority of, say, ten percent
        add up to? This is like counting sand!
        For this democracy has no lexicon!)
        Along the same latitude, the Mexican
        Civil War is over, and saintly, hesitant
        Francisco Madero becomes the President.
        Italy finding the Turks too coarse
        to deal with, resorts to the air force
        for the first time in history, while da Vinci's
        Mona Lisa gets stolen from the Louver - which is
        why the cops in Paris grab Monsieur Guillaume
        Apollinaire who though born in Rome,
        writes in French, and has other energies.
        Rilke prints his Duinese Elegies
        and in London, suffragettes poke their black
        umbrellas at Whitehall and cry Alack!

        Man of the year is a great Norwegian.
        The crucial word in their tongue is "Skol".
        They are born wearing turtlenecks in that region.
        When they go South, they hit the Pole.

            (Roald Amundsen)

        "I am Roald Amundsen. I like ice.
        The world is my oyster for it's capped twice
        with ice: first, Arctical, then Antarctical.
        Human life in those parts is a missing article.
        O! when the temperature falls subzero
        the eyes grow blue, the heart sincere.
        There are neither doubts nor a question mark:
        it's the tails of your huskies which pull and bark".

        1912. Captain Robert Scott
        reaches the South Pole also. Except he got
        there later than Amundsen. He stares at ice,
        thinks of his family, prays, and dies.
        Ice, however, is not through yet.
        S.S. Titanic hits an iceberg at
        full speed and goes down. The bell grimly tolls
        at Lloyd's in London. Fifteen hundred souls
        are lost, if not more. Therefore, let's turn
        to Romania where Eugene Ionesco's born
        or to Turkey and her Balkan neighbors: each
        one of them feels an itch to reach
        for the gun; on reflection, though, they abandon
        the idea. It's peace everywhere. In London
        by now there are five hundred movie theaters
        which makes an issue of baby-sitters.
        At home, after having less done than said;
        Woodrow Wilson becomes the Prez. Dead-set
        to pocket the dizzy with flipping coin
        New Mexico and Arizona join
        the Union. For all its steel mills and farms
        the Union keeps currently under arms
        only one hundred thousand men. That's barmy
        considering five million in the Russian Army,
        or four million in Germany, or the French
        who, too, have as many to fill a trench.
        This sounds to some like a lack of caution.
        But then there is the Atlantic Ocean
        between the Continent and the U.S.,
        and it's only 1912, God bless,
        and the hemispheres luckily seem unable
        to play the now popular Cain and Abel.

        The man of the year is both short and tall.
        He's nameless, and well he should
        stay nameless: for spoiling for us free fall
        by using a parachute.

            (Captain Albert Berry)

        "Leaving home with umbrella? Take a parachute!
        When it rains from below, that is when they shoot
        down a plane and its pilot objects to die,
        when you wand to grab Holland or drop a spy
        behind enemy lines, you need parachutes.
        O, they'll be more popular than a pair of shoes.
        In their soft descent they suggest a dove.
        Aye! it's not only love that comes from above!"

        1913. Peace is wearing thin
        in the Balkans. Great powers try their pristine
        routine of talks, but only soil white gloves:
        Turkey and the whole bunch of Slavs
        slash one another as if there is no tomorrow.
        The States think there is; and being thorough
        introduce the federal income tax.
        Still, what really spells the Pax
        Americana is the assembly line
        Ford installs in Michigan. Some decline
        of capitalism! No libertine or Marxist
        could foresee this development in the darkest
        possible dream. Speaking of such a dream,
        California hears the first natal scream
        of Richard Nixon. However, the most
        loaded sounds are those uttered by Robert Frost
        whose A Boy's Will and North of Boston
        are printed in England and nearly lost on
        his compatriots eyeing in sentimental
        rapture the newly-built Grand Central
        Station where they later would
        act as though hired by Hollywood.
        In the meantime, M.Proust lets his stylus saunter
        the Swann's Way, H.Geyger designs his counter;
        probing nothing perilous or perdu,
        Stravinsky produces Le Sacre du
        Printemps, a ballet, in Paris, France.
        But the fox-trot is what people really dance.
        And as Schweitzer cures lepers and subs dive deeper,
        the hottest news is the modest zipper.
        Think of the preliminaries it skips
        timing your lips with you fingertips!

        The man of the year is, I fear, Niels Bohr.
        He comes from the same place as danishes.
        He builds what one feels like when one can't score
        or what one looks like when one vanishes.

            (Niels Bohr)

        Atoms are small. Atoms are nice. Until you split one, of course.
        Then they get large enough to play dice with your whole universe.
        A model of an atom is what I've built! Something both small and big!
        Inside, it resembles the sense of guilt. Outside, the lunar dig.

        1914

        Nineteen-fourteen! Oh, nineteen-fourteen!
        Ah, some years shouldn't be let out of quarantine!
        Well, this is one of them. Things get raw:
        In Paris, the editor of Figaro
        is shot dead by the wife of the French finance
        minister, for printing this lady's - sans
        merci, should we add? - steamy letters to
        - ah, who cares!.. And apparently it's c'est tout
        also for a socialist and pacifist
        of all times, Jean Jaures. He who shook his fist
        at the Parliament urging hot heads to cool it,
        dies, as he dines, by some bigot's bullet
        in a cafe. Ah, those early, single
        shots of Nineteen-fourteen! ah, the index finger
        of an assassin! ah, white puffs in the blue acrylic!..
        There is something pastoral, nay! idyllic
        about these murders. About that Irish enema
        the Brits suffer in Dublin again. And about Panama
        Canal's grand opening. Or about that doc
        and his open heart surgery on his dog...
        Well, to make these things disappear forever,
        the Archduke is arriving at Sarajevo;
        and there is in the crowd that unshaven, timid
        youth, with his handgun.... (To be continued).

                                                                        1986

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10

Seven Strophes

I was but what you'd brush
with your palm, what your leaning
brow would hunch to in evening's
raven-black hush.

I was but what your gaze
in that dark could distinguish:
a dim shape to begin with,
later - features, a face.

It was you, on my right,
on my left, with your heated
sighs, who molded my helix
whispering at my side.

It was you by that black
window's trembling tulle pattern
who laid in my raw cavern
a voice calling you back.

I was practically blind.
You, appearing, then hiding,
gave me my sight and heightened
it. Thus some leave behind

a trace. Thus they make worlds.
Thus, having done so, at random
wastefully they abandon
their work to its whirls.

Thus, prey to speeds
of light, heat, cold, or darkness,
a sphere in space without markers
spins and spins.

1981, translated by Paul Graves.

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11

M.B.

        I threw my arms about those shoulders, glancing
        at what emerged behind that back,
        and saw a chair pushed slightly forward,
        merging now with the lighted wall.
        The lamp glared too bright to show
        the shabby furniture to some advantage,
        and that is why sofa of brown leather
        shone a sort of yellow in a corner.
        The table looked bare, the parquet glossy,
        the stove quite dark, and in a dusty frame
        a landscape did not stir. Only the sideboard
        seemed to me to have some animation.
        But a moth flitted round the room,
        causing my arrested glance to shift;
        and if at any time a ghost had lived here,
        he now was gone, abandoning this house.

translated by ?

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12

May 24, 1980

I have braved, for want of wild beasts, steel cages,
carved my term and nickname on bunks and rafters,
lived by the sea, flashed aces in an oasis,
dined with the-devil-knows-whom, in tails, on truffles.
From the height of a glacier I beheld half a world, the earthly
width. Twice have drowned, thrice let knives rake my nitty-gritty.
Quit the country the bore and nursed me.
Those who forgot me would make a city.
I have waded the steppes that saw yelling Huns in saddles,
worn the clothes nowadays back in fashion in every quarter,
planted rye, tarred the roofs of pigsties and stables,
guzzled everything save dry water.
I've admitted the sentries' third eye into my wet and foul
dreams. Munched the bread of exile; it's stale and warty.
Granted my lungs all sounds except the howl;
switched to a whisper. Now I am forty.
What should I say about my life? That it's long and abhors transparence.
Broken eggs make me grieve; the omelette, though, makes me vomit.
Yet until brown clay has been rammed down my larynx,
only gratitude will be gushing from it.

1980, translated by the author.

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13

A list of some observation. In a corner, it's warm.
        A glance leaves an imprint on anything it's dwelt on.
        Water is glass's most public form.
        Man is more frightening than its skeleton.
        A nowhere winter evening with wine. A black
        porch resists an osier's stiff assaults.
        Fixed on an elbow, the body bulks
        like a glacier's debris, a moraine of sorts.
        A millennium hence, they'll no doubt expose
        a fossil bivalve propped behind this gauze
        cloth, with the print of lips under the print of fringe,
        mumbling "Good night" to a window hinge.

translated by the author ?.

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14

As though the mercury's under its tongue, it won't
talk. As though with the mercury in its sphincter,
immobile, by a leaf-coated pond
a statue stands white like a blight of winter.
After such snow, there is nothing indeed: the ins
and outs of centuries, pestered heather.
That's what coming full circle means -
when your countenance starts to resemble weather,
when Pygmalion's vanished. And you are free
to cloud your folds, to bare the navel.
Future at last! That is, bleached debris
of a glacier amid the five-lettered "never."
Hence the routine of a goddess, nee
alabaster, that lets roving pupils gorge on
the heart of color and the temperature of the knee.
That's what it looks like inside a virgin.

1983, translated by the author.

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15

Tsushima Screen

The perilous yellow sun follows with its slant eyes
masts of the shuddered grove steaming up to capsize
in the frozen straits of Epiphany. February has fewer
days than the other months; therefore, it's more cruel
than the rest. Dearest, it's more sound
to wrap up our sailing round
the globe with habitual naval grace,
moving your cot to the fireplace
where our dreadnought is going under
in great smoke. Only fire can grasp a winter!
Golder unharnessed stallions in the chimney
dye their manes to more corvine shades as they near the finish,
and the dark room fills with the plaintive, incessant chirring
of a naked, lounging grasshopper one cannot cup in fingers.

1978, translated by the author.

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16

Darling, you think it's love, it's just a midnight journey.
Best are the dales and rivers removed by force,
as from the next compartment throttles "Oh, stop it, Bernie,"
yet the rhythm of those paroxysms is exactly yours.
Hook to the meat! Brush to the red-brick dentures,
alias cigars, smokeless like a driven nail!
Here the works are fewer than monkey wrenches,
and the phones are whining, dwarfed by to-no-avail.
Bark, then, with joy at Clancy, Fitzgibbon, Miller.
Dogs and block letters care how misfortune spells.
Still, you can tell yourself in the john by the spat-at mirror,
slamming the flush and emerging with clean lapels.
Only the liquid furniture cradles the dwindling figure.
Man shouldn't grow in size once he's been portrayed.
Look: what's been left behind is about as meager
as what remains ahead. Hence the horizon's blade.

1983, translated by the author.

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17

A Polar Explorer

All the huskies are eaten. There is no space
left in the diary, And the beads of quick
words scatter over his spouse's sepia-shaded face
adding the date in question like a mole to her lovely cheek.
Next, the snapshot of his sister. He doesn't spare his kin:
what's been reached is the highest possible latitude!
And, like the silk stocking of a burlesque half-nude
queen, it climbs up his thigh: gangrene.

1977, translated by the author.

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18

From 'Part Speech'

(Север крошит металл, но щадит стекло...)

The North buckles metal, glass it won't harm;
teaches the throat to say, "Let me in."
I was raised by the cold that, to warm my palm,
gathered my fingers around a pen.

Freezing, I see the red sun that sets
behind oceans, and there is no soul
in sight. Either my heel slips on ice, or the globe itself
arches sharply under my sole.

And in my throat, where a boring tale
or tea, or laughter should be the norm,
snow grows all the louder and "Farewell!"
darkens like Scott wrapped in a polar storm.

1975-6, translated by the author.

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19

There is always a possibility left - to let
yourself out of the street whose brown length
will soothe the eye with doorways, the slender forking
of willows, the patchwork puddles, with simply walking.
The hair on my gourd is stirred by a breeze
and the street, in distance, tapering to a V, is
like a face to a chin; and a barking puppy
flies out of a gateway like crumpled paper.
A street. Some houses, let's say,
are better than others. To take one item,
some have richer windows. What's more, if you go insane,
it won't happen, at least, inside them.

1975-6, translated by the author.

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20

If anything's to be paised, it's most likely how
the west wind becomes the east wind, when a frozen bough
sways leftward, voicing its creaking protests,
and your cough flies across the Great Plains to Dakota's forests.
At noon, shouldering a shotgun, fire at what may well
be a rabbit in snowfields, so that a shell
widens the breach between the pen that puts these limping
awkward lines and the creature leaving
real tracks in the white. On occasion the head combines
its existence with that of a hand, not to fetch more lines
but to cup an ear under the pouring slur
of their common voice. Like a new centaur.

1975-6, translated by the author.

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21

The Laocoon of a tree, casting the mountain weight
off his shoulders, wraps them in an immense
cloud. From a promontory, wind gushes in. A voice
pitches high, keeping words on a string of sense.
Rain surges on; its ropes twisted into lumps,
lash, like the bather's shoulders, the naked backs of these
hills. The Medhibernian Sea stirs round colonnaded stumps
like a salt tongue behid broken teeth.
The heart, however grown savage, still beats for two.
Every good boy deserves fingers to indicate
that beyond today there is always a static to-
morrow, like a subject's shadowy predicate.

1975-6, translated by the author.

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22

I recognize this wind battering the limp grass
that submits to it as they did to the Tartar mass.
I recognize this leaf splayed in the roadside mud
like a prince empurpled in his own blood.
Fanning wet arrows that blow aslant
the cheek of a wooden hut in another land,
autumn tells, like geese by their flying call,
a tear by its face. And as I roll
my eyes to the ceiling, I chant herein
not the lay of that eager man's campaign
but utter your Kazakh name which till now was stored
in my throat as a password into the Horde.

1975, translated by the author.

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