(as they must) | Bus Stop: Israelitischer Friedhof | Fish
(as they must)
Marching their way—
Dragoons of them, tapping
Their beetle legs like twigs on dry paper.
The native population of the heart’s nether-nation
Their tears cocked like a loaded weapon
Like a lesson got by rote, your words of explanation.
Once they’re in, they devour everything.
And you, sweet reading
Lifting the lamp’s lit arms above its head
Spreading your tent above fallen dreamers
Hiding the Jew in an empty store cupboard.
And you, courage,
Fear’s flushed veneer.
The pointless ability to rest one’s cheeks in one’s hands
And lift one’s own head like a cup—
And quite useless:
The wine of madness, its dark contents
Spreading and taking hold in the animal body.
Oh how it foams,
Full of the dark fruits
Veiled over with a dull-blue film
Like the eye of a dying bird.
Will he help?
Will he mix the wine with water?
Turn out the sleepless plasma screen?)
We deny, we turn away,
We walk the road step by step
Breathing with our eyes, hardly able to bear each other up,
We see acorns, fixed in the dirt clay:
Morning, morning is here!
How many of you there were, acorns.
The ones without caps,
The shaved heads of Cossacks
Burnt black in the sun,
Hardened, with long running scars.
And the ones like children, thick-walled,
Tiny barrels, big-headed boys,
So very sure of themselves
Born for the palm of the hand.
For the roll of the fist, for the life in a pocket
(A pitch-dark, populous, perspiring pocket?)
In somebody’s possibly kindly grasp.
You aren’t for growing, for unfurling
You aren’t for rupturing the paper earth,
And humming from root to topmost leaf,
Like a hive interrupted.
Nor for the extending of a ship’s long deck
Or for the wearing of a feast on your back
Or for the lying as someone else’s bed.
You were meant for another purpose.
The squirrel busies itself, the wind passes through
One by one, two by two
All they know is how to fall on the road
Where they lie, as they must.
Bus Stop: Israelitischer Friedhof
Along the bus route, to the right and all in front
The letters on the wall spell out G – O – D.
And issuing from the mouth with unprecedented force
Involuntary, like a speech bubble: Lord. Have mercy.
And so another verst slips
By, with such and such upon the lips.
Like the cheapest ballad of a briar
At the bus stop, yet bearing on apace.
It runs at you and unwreathes
Like a paper handkerchief blossoms on your face
The whole town momently bathed in light
Climbing to the upper branches for a sight
Dumbstruck at the balustrades
Watching, like the neighbor, from behind her lace,
How the dead rise from their graves.
There is no place for the living on dead ground
Even there, where the first lady of the sod,
Soviet Maize, strode on limbs earth-bound
And waxed unceremonious toward the Gods
The young mother, the queen bee
Who has learned to gather up like children, the glean
Of harvests, meadows, and sowings
Her tongue sucking sap from the weed
A cocktail of vital air and dank mold-green
Blood and water from the left flank flowing.
Even here where she leafs through the fields
Speaking with the voices of seasons
Where the antennae quiver, the swarm breathes
And unready minds are breached
By the promise of bright new reasons.
Thimble-bodied, the sparrows flit and fly
The sparrows, as shaggy as foxes.
Where a cross is formed from every outline
And, like the maypole, surges to the sky
And flies—but onto the ropes, like boxers.
So at dawn they lie still: her, him, any of us
Like the babe in its pram, the ice in the compress
Like the unborn child in the amniotic flow
Its soft down washing in the womb’s scumble
Like a headcount in a children’s home
Like a little finger loose in a thimble.
Is anyone easy in their skin? How about the one
Who will wake embraced and held tight?
Moses in his basket, the muses’ suckling son
The newlywed appearing in smoke and light?
Stepping across the reproductive earth, one as two.
In imitation of spring, whispering, renewed
And will he give thanks and praise
For this duality, so newly gained…
Is he easy in his skin? Who was pulled into light
And opened himself for the first shriek
Between red and white, between doctor and breast
The indignity of air in the barreling chest
Nor is there place for the living in the warm surf.
Is anyone easy in their skin? Is anyone easy enough?
And clutching at the very last the last of all
The hands I can trust, I glance out over the sill:
Between soothing and surviving, between living and dead
There is a secret place, I know
I cannot steal it, nor is it my debt
Nor will I leave it alone.
In the deadest of all dead places at the heart
Of the earth, in an empty sleeve, in the untouched dust
Of endless cenacles, each colder than the last
Brought to life by the cooing of doves.
On the buses terminating at and on their paths
In the darkening bushes, the unworkplaces
The brashly lit halls where kids learn martial arts
On orphaned balconies, two joining faces.
Buying the day’s pretzels
Crossing with the bicycles
Every warehouse loader, every wife, every girl
This place drags them all into its thrall.
I stand by it like a watchman, pacing my duty
Borne by invisible hands, in a heaven that is earthly
At the cemetery, where the eternal act of bringing forth
Is the meeting and parting with a new natural force.
In a tin bath, a tin bath she lay
We poured water in, and mixed in some salt
One man got drunk, another repaired the transmitter,
A fourth man wandered the shore in lament:
What would he tell his grandchildren, but I digress:
Speaks no English, has not expressed hunger,
Still one should do something—cook, or offer something raw.
This cannot be, it simply cannot be.
Eyes—hungry, wide-lipped, hair
Like wet hay, pale as ice and smelling of vodka;
If it turns on its side even slightly, a line
Of vertebrae knots the length of the back, like on yours.
Not a word of Russian, most likely Finno-Ugric
But sadly no experts were at hand
When the nets were cast in hope that morning
And the beast smiled and beat its tail in greeting.
Twilight, tins were opened, lamps brought in.
Cards and a chessboard appeared without undue haste.
I try debating with our mechanic, but he won’t take the bait.
A quick check-over (Witnessed by. Sign on dotted.)—
Not long enough. Only first observations,
Weight: sixty. Length of tail: ninety.
Jagged wounds in the abdominal area
Mostly likely caused by a sharp object.
Not long enough. Only early theories,
There is no time. The reestablishing of radio contact
Keeping the hut warm, catching fish.
Eats the fish with us all, very neat and tidy
Can’t stand coffee, refuses to wear clothes;
Measured the diameter of nipple; change tub water
Morning and evening; the thing sleeps hugging tail.
Can’t tell faces apart. Doesn’t remember names.
Not long enough, just come from the radio engineer
Have suspicions someone sabotaging radio
And emergency generator, work out why
No point in working out why, still I do believe we will meet.
Better to put the notes into code, put all notes into code,
At eighteen hundred last night another helicopter over the pines
Rapid pulse, slight nausea
Splashing and laughter from behind the calico curtain.
Yesterday and today let fish out for a swim.
I stood guard with a pike, Petrov had a carbine.
Didn’t attempt to slip away, only splashed around;
Water temperature; body temperature;
Possible uses for the purpose of fishing.
I ran along the shore, pretending to be a hunter.
It dived in and out gently, to no good purpose,
Wet, white-toothed and gleaming.
Only now: is it happening, I can’t tell
Two hours of pointless conversation
In the cold about the radio and the spares,
A sprint back to the hut. Silence behind the curtain.
And no one there, behind the curtain. The tub upturned.
Smoke in the mess room, I step in a puddle
And there, to the soothing hiss of the radio
The fish and the mechanic are playing snap.
Not long enough, not up to it, the thing is sick
And smells less like vodka, more like moonshine
Distended pupil, sweats, palpitations,
Listless, lethargic, no appetite,
No communications, no photographic equipment
Filth, fishscales amongst the medical instruments
Dreamt of God again, the rotating propeller
The pines bending, and the noise of the rotor.
It’s Petrov again: doctor, he says, doctor—
It’s quiet behind the curtain. The tub is empty.
The mechanic had a flask of spirits, a secret.
I don’t object, let the fish swim. On the floor
A wet scarf, fish likes to keep its throat covered
Although what use a scarf is to it, I don’t know.
From the window astoundingly clear on the bay’s shining
Surface, the head of a swimmer moving forever beyond range.
Must concentrate on essentials: we are flying away.
Despite the care I took in sabotaging the transmitter
It was put to rights painstakingly, more than once
And then there was no reason to put it off waiting
For the helicopter, for the helicopter waiting, waiting.
Everything is packed and the crates stowed,
All reckonings completed, all logbooks closed,
Blinds drawn, flags lowered, I am asleep.
My dearest, I went out late in the evening
To look at you in photographs taken at college,
I haven’t seen her for so long, she hasn’t changed
My Dearest I hoped I would never have to tell you,
My Dearest, I hoped to conceal it
My Dearest, I hoped I wouldn’t live long enough
To meet with, the coming together of two halves,
The full combination of classical attributes.
Addressed to the President of the Academy, Professor Nikitin
A copy to the Kremlin, the original for my widow.
Research notes. A diary with his observations.
Height, weight, estimated age.
Those characteristic scars in the abdominal area—
There, submerged in water, last-century surgery
Operations without anesthetic on the seabed
Changes in pressure, fibroids, scars
Giving birth is hard; bringing up the child is hard
And marriage is a near impossibility.
And such yearning, such yearning, although on dry land.
…But most of all: I love you, your very own.
But most of all: forgive me, this is not goodbye
But last of all, and first of all,
And Christ! All in all: fare you well.
And if this place is the far edge of the earth,
It is not the farthest edge of the earth.