| Marina Boroditskaya
* * *
There is a tree. Its name escapes me
A prose-like name, it flirts
With poetry, wears poetic oddity.
Ballad of a prison yard. A Japanese birch tree.
Its slender trunk bore a bark of bronze.
It grew in my friend's garden where
On days that seem barely gone
We made hideaways of folding chairs
And a boy, bronze-skinned as an Indian
Vanished as he clutched the tree
And swarmed upwards, sending
A circle trembling through the canopy.
Fourteen years old and travelling light
At the ravine we grazed our herd of bikes
The radio hissed. And somewhere very far
Invisible tanks slid into Prague.
If not for tender little breasts
At the least touch aching —
We'd have pressed ourselves to the smooth bark
And caught the earth quaking
There is a tree. Its name escapes me.
And yet like a chill dark shadow
Like a child's first shameful thoughts
It lies deep in a stranger's meadow.
And if that trunk was felled long ago
Leaving only a trace of sap on its tomb
Then I kiss in my dreams the rings cut through
And all their history enwombed.
My poor spirit stands before
The heavenly medical board
Sight: shit, muscle tone: slight
Naked, weighed and measured,
A trembling fool
Upon whom the narrowed eyes
Of the recruiting archangel fall.
The mysterious, the glorious
St Michael, the battle-scarred
Asks only one question:
'Soldier, did you fight hard?'
'Well... I put my best foot forward...
I piped my pipe... Woke men's hearts...
And I... I never expected any reward
Ask Gabriel there — he'll take my part.'
You wandered in a haze! You sprawled and lazed!
You mucked about
Dozed in the sun, half-dazed
Those heights you were to gain
From the dark — they were beyond you!
You will wake as a woman again
With winter upon you.
So I was wondering how they crossed that seabed
When the whole watery firmament was combed, wave to floor
And the squelch, squelch, squelch, and the walls on either side
Going up and up like a great aquatic corridor
The babies were carried, the older children, I'm sure
Fell behind, shouting: Look! Look what I've found!
Was it really possible to walk the watery course
Without stopping once to lift a shell's pink round?
What wonders they must have seen on that bed!
The tentacles that jutted from the walls like booms
And yet not all of them knew why they fled
Nor remembered that behind them lay their doom.
And when the prophet Mariam beat on her tambour
And the sea walls bent, and with a tidal roar
Crushed the Egyptians, their horses, swept, destroyed —
Did they shudder, even briefly, before they danced for joy?