We all remember
that notorious "cloud in the pants" poet,
as he called himself.
But today let's talk
about the checkered sweater
worn by the almighty Vladimir.
That acre of wool, stripes
plowed symmetrically, right and left,
worn so tight by that immeasurable guy,
hardly fits into his narrow closet
where now it's draped over a hanger;
and where, on a little table outside,
sits his death mask.
(He, who felt indebted to Japan's cherry trees
about which he never wrote.
He, who complained about wasted light bulbs
in broad daylight.
He, who noted the llama, its daughter and its mama,
and hated Kerensky's monstruous ears.
He, who believed in the internationalism
of the metaphor —
he would only kill himself when purity was perforated
by the trivial bullets of Truth).
And I don't leave the room. I stay,
hoping I might postpone his death.
IT'S A PITY
It's a pity, and I'm truly sorry that I won't reach the solemn hour
dressed in the limpid outfit of Spirit.
Fog surrounds my present and plunges me into Nothingness,
exempt of grandeur.
Oh, I wish I could have uttered the Syllable and the High Sound
that could pierce the Fish's ear
and startle the White Owl in her sleep.
I wish I could have drawn a Last Will in the air with my right hand,
and could close my eyes willingly on a last loving glance.
There is fog. I cannot see. I cannot talk.
The world turns its back on me.
AT THE OFFICE
I get tired.
Too many haunted, sleepless nights.
Too many thin, brush-painted smiles.
I saw them at the office:
the same unerasable features.
It was them.
Ice. Terror. —
Young and ferocious.
Them again, the bosses.
Me again, the underling.
And then they told me:
"Recite a poem for us."
Which I did.
They went on ordering my sleep, my sleeplessness,
my smile, my grimace.
In the geometry of their features,
I recognized everything I hate:
the perpendicular of the guillotine,
the bisection, the being cut in two,
the obtuse angle,
and the like triangles of the Lie.
They were just some of them...
But who was I?
Only me and my cigarette
and this tiny dragonfly
painted in Voronetz monastery blue.
Nothing threatens me,
not even the sun.
The sky is an immense cloud
made of mother-of-pearl.
The lake is an immense cloud
of nacreous iridescence.
I am the mermaid of the lake.
... I am an infinite melody
like her murmur in the rain.
And I am clean
like the poem I'm writing.
AN UNSCIENTIFIC POINT OF VIEW
There was a botanist among us,
with a head oblong and sad,
who, at Yalta and Salumi,
tore from the beauty of the world
some corollas of flowers,
and several leaves,
crushing them on the pages, um,
of his herbarium.
To press into cold foliages
of the delicate magnolia,
I didn't dare.
And so it died silently
in front of me,
and the petal rusted
and turned orange.
And I was left, alas,
with the withered leafstalk in my glass.
I am made of silence and viscera.
The green effluence of alcohol makes my blood phosphorescent.
By night, all felonies take place.
The law is powerless.
I am obliged to believe that it's true —
this mystical fog over the ocean,
and the endless shore wave, and me — as if from Atlantis!
Far out, a few people are taking a sunbath
on this shore of another sea,
to which I was once related through blood and love's seed.
Here the sand is brutal, and a strange cold
turns my age blue.
My skin is streaked
red and white:
I am a striped flag — occidental.
THE LAST FLAG
I'm ashamed of my widowhood
because everyone treats me so nicely
and I don't reward them as they deserve.
I'm ashamed of my absolute loneliness,
and my last flag flutters over the last rampart
like a rhyme
although I want to die in free verse.
MY LAST BOOK
How do I know
that this is my last book?
My genes are adamant.
My energy is longing for exhaustion.
The words are telling me to shut up.
Yes, in total silence,
my crippled hand
ejects sometimes a pen
to inject a poem
like a shot, an intravenous,
in the missing arms of Venus.
"My Last Book" and "Mayakovsky's Sweater" are reprinted from Continuum: Poems by Nina Cassian. Copyright (c) 2008 by Nina Cassian. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.