Portrait by Sergey Samsonov
An Attempt to Explain
At dawn someone sober hangs a sky like a worn out
wrinkled screen on the village far end,
the old projector rolls in from East, on its heavy cart,
and I walk through the tall grass of Russian syllables,
where colons and commas are abundant
in June, and syntax is vague on ladybugs' wings.
I would settle nowhere else,
wouldn't settle for less,
trust me, nothing would ever suffice, but
how do I explain
how I dread
the expression on my motherland's face?
the Chekhovs, the Priatkins, the Derzhavin twins, the practical Kotovs, every day shrinking babushka Dora, uncle Yura with a big dog, the Slivkins on the second floor, their parents on the third.
the Kitaikins, bandit Bludov with mother and grandmother, aunt Zoia from the "Sports goods" (with uncle Alyosha), Vanya Karamazov, us, Yadviga Kazemirovna, the Mandelstams, Natasha and Beso Orphanashvili, the crazy Rutkovskys, aunt Sonya with a sister just like her, the Margolins, the Bloks.
I flew over Norway,
I had lived in a cage — a landscape of frost covered wires
and then broke free,
flew away, saw fiords —
Cliffs shone pure slate, their after-rain luster
when I flew over Norway,
I was finally out, out — and you
were five, you slept on the woolen sleeve of my Moscow
winter coat in the bliss of the stratosphere. Just think: I can walk, hear whispers, see hues the way
dry leaves fall
with a hollow sound
of clapping hands
into empty symphony hall —
as my limbs, my eye lashes, and the lines of a poem are free
not bound anymore by my eyelids
nor by the gates
of that thirst for
the border below.
(How it gleams in twilight! —
the rim of a forest lake,
moraine ragged edge)
a bird of glass,
a bird with a scratched throat,
a bird that tries to tell it all at once,
a bird that turns its head when called,
a bird that's pinned with hopes,
a bird O Woe,
a bird that must be turned up louder,
a tip-toed bird,
a bird that types,
a bird that strikes a match.
It's Here Again
The same branch in my window, same vetka, vetochka1
as then, at my grandparents'.
I would open my eyes
to the gray Sunday morning
to the cheerful radio mantra
— Orange sun, orange skies —
I am six, I am nine, I am twelve.
The twig freezing in the Moscow mist
pokes the glass
and small veter wind moves it lightly —
just to check on it.
Can't believe: it is still
with me — the two bends and the smooth shiny nod,
a fork on the left side — Lot's wife who 'd glanced ahead —
still wet from morning Jersey drizzle, pokes the window.
Waters are rising
my island is smaller and smaller, and I hear, far away
in the fields — a freight train
sounds like future
it's just returned from
1 Tree branch, twig (Rus.)
Senior Housing. Irvington, NJ
Those who're younger younger, playing bingo,
those older older — dancing tango,
while corridor all by itself moves toward
the elevator with no final flight.
Stop — those revolving won't all stop together
as they would want. As we would, too, I gather.
But — look, no, seriously, I'm no coward
— I just don't like this fluorescent light.
I mean that those ticked off and ever grumpy
perhaps won't notice how the space is lumpy
and orbit bumpy, and more space gets vacant,
balloons are lighter, and the rent is low.
All talking stops. We just repeat verbatim.
(Remember — soul? It sounds like Art Tatum,
Body&Soul). But hawks are going vegan
and they descend unusually slow.
I love them, too, look up at them, unfolding
unearthly plumage, wings of an unseen molding,
those walking, sitting, leaking, napping, snooping,
those chewing tasteless gossip, hard to grasp.
40-watt bulb swings, like some hallway prefect —
while present quickly turns into past perfect,
and perfect weather westward rolls, unopened
to that unbearably shining shining clasp.
Fleet left. Towers
are rising from waters
— and sink again:
Grand Central of the sea —
its bottle glass of empty
deep terminals, and foamless
passages, and shoals of baby fish...
Brave Herodot had it described, it's just
that seem new.
So, to Palenque! To all the native cities
swallowed by forests, to all the folding books
of hieroglyphs, to clean design
of Mayan steps,
to steppes beneath the alto-cumulus convoys,
where my grandfather at sixteen denounced
the family, joined the Red Guard,
saw terror, saw it all, sent them to hell,
got himself jailed, jailed again, exiled, then old.
We haven't started it but we've got to see
how mermaids swim by rusty snapped off doors
of an express stuck in abyssal mud —
and sit on cliffs of rhymes and sing.
As for the meter — as for the pure honey
for iamb of littoral, for anapest of depths,
lighthouses of metaphors, drill towers above shelf waters —
we know that tar at night does look mysterious.
From space that glides so low,
oil spills look like an unknown
The lost city of Kitezh is the invisible town of Russian folklore, a Russian Atlantis. According to legend, Kitezh was drowned in the Svetloyar Lake while being ransacked in 1237 by the Mongols. Rimsky-Korsakov's opera is based on this plot.