CARDINAL POINTS: THE CURRENT ISSUE
Nikolai Baitov
WAVES
Translated from Russian by J. Kates 
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Nikolai Baitov
(untitled)


With hope in my teeth, like a pirate with a knife, —
with death in my eyes, like a prelate with a cross, —
I came — I crept, I crawled out — to you —
my greeting trampled by hard work.

Like a rose swirling with fire and ashes,
discarded, something monstrous hung over you,
which from my depths slowly grew
and, in a cloud, smiling, got stuck.

But you — completely different — sit under
the cloud, like Jonah in the shade of a gourd, —
like gaunt hands lifted in prayer —
eyes lifted up like sacrificial smoke.



Waves


1.

Calculations covered eight pages.
then an arid cosmos and a page-number,
then the ancient autumn of the cosmos.
Axioms don't penetrate very far
inside. And there is no trace,
like a moth crushed into dust.

2.

I rose from sleep on a hill of featherbeds.
I threw the shaggy blanket off my face, —
the blanket with a goatwool nap.
I am alone, alone and awake now,
held up to the ceiling by the hands of my dream,
distorted from within, undone.

3.

This is when she ran off, vowing a spiral. —
Like Tamar, she ran off with her deception,
or like Sarah, earlier, stricken in years.
Then tears, swearing and quarreling,
tears again — and a wet streak
of light — crawls, crawls under the door.

4.

An eight-person elliptical contour
for the game of li-boy-go and a box of sand,
the field of action left me as an inheritance.
And she surged back, having thrown her son
over the edge without a rudder and oar,
having thrown the boy into the caprice

5.

of the mercy of flat De Broglie waves.
Their mercy occupies places
ticketed within the inner circle.
The gray curtain rises.
The curtain falls without a whistle. —
A well-meaning contest brought to an end.



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I sell my nights. I'm a security guard.
I stay awake, catch every noise in the yard.
My heart beats. I strain my goggling eyes.
Are those running rats I hear — or mice?
Leaves fall from the maple. Drops of rain
Tick gently on the roof. Between the blinds
The feeble yellow of my flashlight flickers.
I am a poet — sell every rustle and tick.
I keep a whole lexicon in my head.
Rats, maples, flashlight — all are goods
in the marketplace of my operations.
Oh, what a masterpiece! I am a fool —
Every scrap of nonsense I have I sell
back to myself in dreamy speculations.



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Rip through a log, and there you'll find me.
your saw leaves me safe and sound.

And then rip open each half log —
and once again you'll find me sound.

You try to nail me down — the log
fixed and held in place, where you
can find me any time at all,
but look again, nothing but log...

Don't grieve: here's light, tied in a knot.
Pick it apart — and find me again.



(untitled)


A light rains spatters. Tomorrow, Easter.
Hallowed be the egg and the food.
Hallowed be artos, hallowed the pies,
Hallowed the sweets and the cottage cheese,
the cheese and egg, and butter, and meat,
the egg and the thickened milk,
the marmalade and loaves of bread
and masses of curds with raisins
hallowed be the bowls and packets.
Hallowed be the candles and matches,
the candles are lit — and right away
the wind will blow them out again.
Hallowed be lacquers and paints,
and the foil, and the paper roses,
the ink, the stencils and the decals.
Hallowed be the platters and bowls
with new sheafs of oat and wheat.
Hallowed be the cups, the salt-cellars,
the dust washed by the rain, the dustbin
and the long row of tables — idle,
idle, in the dusk — only an oil-cloth
splattered all over with red wax.
In the village bell-towers a flock
of jackdaws suddenly silent. Maples
blacken by the church door. Idly,
midnight hangs back in the distance. Easter.

Translated from Russian by J. Kates

© Copyright Nikolai Baitov. Originals in Russian
© Copyright J. Kates. Translation from Russian
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