Poem – The Mail Cutter

The ice had not even begun to break,
no boat could possibly sail yet,
but the letters lay in a pile at the post office,
with all their requests and instructions.

Among them trying vainly to leave,
in the scrawls of fishermen,
were reproaches, complaints, cries,
awkward confessions of love.

In vain the huskies gazed out to sea,
searching the waves through the fog,
lying like gray hillocks
on the bottoms of overturned boats.

But, like a ghost, dreamed up
from the desperate monotony,
the ice-covered mail boat
showed her gray masts.

She was beaten up and dirty,
but to the fishing village
her chilly, husky voice
sounded like the sweetest music.

And the gloomy sailors, throwing us a line
to the shore, like Vikings,
silently, skillfully
carried canvas sacks full of people’s souls.

And again the ship went out, tiredly,
her hull breaking the ice with difficulty,
and I sat in her dank hold
among the piled sacks.

Tormented, I searched for an answer
with all my restless conscience:
‘Just what am I, in fact,
and where am I going? ‘

Can it be I am like a frail boat,
and that the passions, like the waves, roll
and toss me about? ‘ But my inner voice
answered me: ‘You are a mail boat.

Make speed through the angry waves,
heavy with ice, to all those people
who have been seperated by the ice,
who are waiting to get in touch again.

And like the first sign of the ship
for which people waited so long,
carry onward the undying light
of the duty that links us together.

And along the foaming arctic sea of life,
through all the ice and against the nor’wester,
carry with you those mailbags
full of hopelessness and hopes.

But remember, as you hang on the whistle,
as soon as the storms die down,
steamers, real ships,
will go through these waters, not afraid anymore.

And the fishermen, standing up in the barges,
will look admiringly at them,
and their sleek, velvety whistles
and make them forget your husky voice.

But you, with the stink of fish and blubber,
don’t lower your rigging gloomily.
You’ve done the job on schedule.
Be happy then. You are the mail cutter.’

Thus the inner voice spoke to me,
impressing upon me the burden of prophecy.
And amid the white night of the Arctic Ocean
somehow it was all morning for me.

I didn’t think enviously
of someone else, covered with honours,
I was simply happy that a few things
also depended on me.

And covered in someone’s fur coat,
I was dependent on so much,
and like that letter from Vanka Zhukov,
I dozed on heaps of other letters.

Poem – You are Great in Love

You are great in love.
You are bold.
My every step is timid.
I’ll do nothing bad to you,
but can hardly do you any good.
It seems you are
leading me
off the beaten path through a forest.
Now we’re up to our waist in wildflowers.
I don’t even know
what flowers they are.
Past experience is of no help here.
I don’t know
what to do or how.
You’re tired.
You ask to be carried in my arms.
Already you’re in my arms.
‘Do you see
how blue the sky is?
Do you hear
what birds are in the forest?
Well, what are you waiting for?
Well?
Carry me then! ‘
And where shall I carry you? …

Poem – Wounds

I have been wounded so often and so painfully,
dragging my way home at the merest crawl,
impaled not only by malicious tongues-
one can be wounded even by a petal.

And I myself have wounded-quite unwittingly-
with casual tenderness while passing by,
and later someone felt the pain,
it was like walking barefoot over the ice.

So why do I step upon the ruins
of those most near and dear to me,
I, who can be so simply and so sharply wounded
and can wound others with such deadly ease?

Poem – Waiting

My love will come
will fling open her arms and fold me in them,
will understand my fears, observe my changes.
In from the pouring dark, from the pitch night
without stopping to bang the taxi door
she’ll run upstairs through the decaying porch
burning with love and love’s happiness,
she’ll run dripping upstairs, she won’t knock,
will take my head in her hands,
and when she drops her overcoat on a chair,
it will slide to the floor in a blue heap.

Poem – Vietnam Classic

The Vietnam classic
was a seventy-year-old child,
with the face of a tired, wise turtle.
Not from his own extraordinary fame
did he suffer,
but from the fact
that he was in fear
of the behavior of a red-haired tomcat
that followed after us with an ulterior motive.
The cat reclined on a bookshelf,
choosing a volume of Saint-John Perse as his mat.
The Vietnam classic kept a wary eye
when he tossed three pepper pods on a saucer,
though cats-
when sitting half-starved-
won’t eat, perhaps, only peppers.
A prose writer,
but, in essence, a poet,
though afraid of not entertaining,
as one should-
the classic never once fell to complaining
that
there wasn’t a spare crust in the house.
He poured a dropp of whiskey in a glass of water,
and over an alcohol-lamp,
with a rolling laugh,
heated small pieces of cuttlefish-
a dried delicacy of war.
In him was the striking,
deeply moving,
spiritual staying power of a Buddhist,
and on a bicyclist’s trouser leg
was a forgotten clothespin.
Dismissing with a hand the flames of battle,
he spoke of Bo Tzu-i,
Baudelaire,
and I thought:
‘What could be meaner-
than to destroy such a man! ‘
And fear
pierced through,
broke through,
burned through me:
the tomcat
made a jump
from the bookshelf.
Burning hunger had flared up in him.
The cat landed near a bottle
and snatched a piece of cuttlefish in his teeth
right from my fork.
The host in Vietnamese screamed:
‘Scat! ‘
and, dismayed by the tactless act,
spread his hands,
visibly afraid,
that I will consider it all unseemly.
I took the cat joylessly in my arms.
The cat himself was none too joyful about the theft,
and I froze with numbness,
when
suddenly I sensed:
he weighed nothing.
A red-haired bit of nature and a warm grain of sand,
trying to arch his back like a wheel,
he was weightless in my palms,
like the fluff of a poplar.
‘Forgive me…’-
sadly glimmered in his pupils.
And nothing-
I say in all conscience-
did I ever hold in my hands heavier
than the weight of that terrifying weightlessness.

Poem – Ballad About Drinking

We had slaughtered a hundred white whales,
civilization was quite forgotten,
our lungs were burned out from smoking shag,
but on sighting port we blew out our chests like barrels
and began to speak to one another politely,
and with the noble goal of drinking
we went ashore from the schooner at Amderma.

In Amderma we walked like gods,
swaggering along with our hands on our hips,
and through the port our beards and sidewhiskers
kept their bearings on the pub,
and passing girls and shellbacks
as well as all the local dogs
went along with us as escort.

But, clouding the whole planet,
a notice hung in the shop: ‘No Spirits! ‘
We looked at some sparkling wine from the Don
as if it were feeble fruit juice,
and through our agonized yearning
we realized-it wouldn’t work.

Now who could have drunk our spirits, our vodka?
It’s dreadful the way people drink-simply ruinous.
But skinny as a skeleton, Petka Markovsky from Odessa,
as it always happens with him,
suddenly disappeared somewhere
giving a secretive ‘Sh-sshh! ‘

And shortly afterward, with much clinking,
he turned up with a huge cardboard box,
already slightly merry,
and it was a sweet clinking the box made
as we woke up to the fact: ‘There she is! She’s apples! ‘
and Markovsky gave us the wink: ‘She’s right! ‘

We made a splash, waving to everyone-
Chartered a deluxe room in the hotel
and sat down as we were on the bed.
Cords flew off the box
and there, in the glittering columns of the bottles,
bulging, stern, cosy,
absolutely hygienic-
triple-distilled eau de cologne stood before us!

And Markovsky rose, lifting his glass,
pulled down his seaman’s jacket,
and began: ‘I’d like to say something…’
‘Then say it! ‘ everyone began to shout.
But before anything else
they wanted to wet their whistles.

Markovsky said: ‘Come on-let’s have a swig!
The doctor told me eau de cologne
is the best thing to keep the wrinkles away.
Let them judge us! -We don’t give a damn!
We used to drink all sorts of wine!
When we were in Germany
we filled the radiators of our tanks
with wine from the Mosel.

We don’t need consumer goods!
We need the wind, the sky!
Old mates, listen to this
in our souls, as though in the safe deposit:
We have the sea, our mothers and young brothers-
All the rest…is rubbish! ‘

Bestriding the earth like a giant,
Markovsky stood with a glass in his hand
that held the foaming seas.
The skipper observed: ‘Everything is shipshape! ‘
and only the boatswain sobbed like a child:
‘But my mother is dead…’

And we all began to burst into tears,
quite easily, quite shamelessly,
as if in the midst of our own families,
mourning with bitter tears
at first for the boatswain’s mother,
and afterward simply for ourselves.

Already a rueful notice hung in the chemist’s shop-
‘No Triple Eau de Cologne’-
but eight of us sea wolves
sobbed over almost all of Russia!
And in our sobs we reeked
like eight barbershops.

Tears, like squalls,
swept away heaps of false values,
of puffed-up names,
and quietly remaining inside us
was only the sea, our mothers and young brothers-
even the mother who was dead…

I wept as though I was being set free,
I wept as if I was being born anew,
a different person from what I’d been,
and before God and before myself,
like the tears of those drunken whalemen,
my soul was pure.

Poem – Being Late

Something dangerous is beginning:
I am coming late to my own self.
I made an appointment with my thoughts-
the thoughts were snatched from me.
I made an appointment with Faulkner-
but they made me go to a banquet.
I made an appointment with history,
but a grass-widow dragged me into bed.
Worse than barbed wire
are birthday parties, mine and others’,
and roasted suckling pigs hold me
like a sprig of parsley between their teeth!
Led away for good
to a life absolutely not my own,
everything that I eat, eats me,
everything that I drink, drinks me.
I made an appointment with myself,
but they invite me to feast on my own spareribs.
I am garlanded from all sides
not by strings of bagels, but by the holes of bagels,
and I look like an anthology of zeros.
Life gets broken into hundreds of lifelets,
that exhaust and execute me.
In order to get through to myself
I had to smash my body against others’,
and my fragments, my smithereens,
are trampled by the roaring crowd.
I am trying to glue myself together,
but my arms are still severed.
I’d write with my left leg,
but both the left and the right
have run off, in different directions.
I don’t know- where is my body?
And soul? Did it really fly off,
without a murmured ‘good-bye! ‘?
How do I break through to a faraway namesake,
waiting for me in the cold somewhere?
I’ve forgotten under which clock
I am waiting for myself.
For those who don’t know who they are,
time does not exist.
No one is under the clock.
On the clock there is nothing.
I am late for my appointment
with me. There is no one.
Nothing but cigarette butts.
Only one flicker-
A lonely, dying, spark…P