Poem – Tomorrow’s Wind

Why am I without joy,
achieving everything,
but grasping
nothing at all?
I dream of the wind
that has overtaken me,
the wind
that has leaped over me.
It shreds
all the telephone lines that sag
from unending chatter,
and all that’s wasted,
all that’s turned sour
it catapults
into oblivion.
All sorts of butwhatifers,
shaking,
like jelly in jackets,
whirled up in a vortex,
like fallen leaves,
shout down indignantly:
‘How come? ‘
Where there’s no wind,
there’s no faith.
Let clammy red pencils
be strewn
among the reeds,
scattered madly
by tomorrow’s wind.
Wind
does not crawl
before idols,
it swirls scraps
of newspapers and posters,
yesterday’s glories,
turning somersaults
over warped roofs.
As if it had swilled
the Decembrists’ hot punch,
tipsy,
the wind flings upward
all the important little papers
that press us down
to the ground.
The wind
showers
under constellations
the garbage
in which the world is bogged down:
automobiles,
which have ridden over people,
furniture,
which has sprawled on us.
The wind
pulls away from sticky screens
all the bewitched
simpletons and fools,

and without thinking
plants them
like shashlik
on the spike of their beloved TV tower…
Timid youth,
I am preaching to you:
Charge forward,
headlong into the epoch,
without wasting
the wind of history
either on fads
or the flimsy.
Each
new generation
must create
a special wind.
If it doesn’t shake
bits of dust,
young people
should send
an SOS.
Youth
is the age for a fresh airing.
In old age
it’s harder to be precocious,
if you put off
being young
in your youth.
Is it possible for you
all to be unfit?
Suck in the time
with a feverous mouth.
The calm will be
inhaled by you,
by the wind
exhaled
afterward.
And the wind,
making a gift of itself
to the universe,
is born,
sprawling
in a burst,
and structures
built on sand
rightfully will crumble.
And I, having reared
these structures not a little,
will look on happily,
blaming no one,
as it withdraws,
arching its mane,
the wind
that has leaped over me.

Poem – I Dreamed I Already

I dreamed I already loved you.
I dreamed I already killed you.

But you rose again; another form, but you,
a girl on the little ball of the earth,
naive simplicity, curve-necked
on that early canvas of Picasso,
and prayed to me with your ribs:
‘Love me, ‘ as though you said, ‘Don’t push me off.’

I’m that played-out, grown-up acrobat,
hunchbacked with senseless muscles,
who knows that advice is a lie,
that sooner or later there’s falling.

I’m too scared to say: ‘I love you, ‘
because I’d be saying: ‘I’ll kill you.’

For in the depths of a face I can see through
I see the faces-can’t count them-
that, right on the spot, or maybe
not right away, I tortured to death.

You’re pale from the mortal balance. You say:
‘I know everything; I was all of them.
I know you’ve already loved me.
I know you’ve already killed me.
But I won’t spin the globe backwards:
Love again, and then kill again.’

Lord, you’re young. Stop your globe.
I’m tired of killing. I’m not a damn thing but old.

You move the earth beneath your little feet,
you fall, ‘Love me.’
It’s only in those eyes, so similar, you say:
‘This time don’t kill me! ‘

Poem – My Universities

I learned not only from those
who brightly beam out of golden frames,
but from everyone whose ID photo
didn’t come out quite right.
More than from Tolstoy
I learned from blind beggars
who sang in train cars about Count Tolstoy.
From barracks
I learned more than from Pasternak
and my verse style was hot ‘barracko’.
I took lessons on Yesenin
in snack bars from invalids of war
who tore their striped sailor shirts
after spilling out their plain secrets.
Mayakovsky’s stepped verse
didn’t give me as much
as the dirty steps of staircases
with handrails polished by kids’ pants.
I learned in Zima Junction
from my most untalkative Grannies
not to be afraid of cuts, scratches,
and various other scrapes.
I learned from dead-end streets that smell of cats,
from crooked spattered lanes,
to be sharper than a knife,
more ordinary than a cigarette butt.
Empty lots were my shepherds.
Waiting lines my nursing mothers.
I learned from all the young toughs
who gave me a whipping.
I learned
from pale-faced harried hacks
with fatal content in their verse
and empty content in their pockets.
I learned from all the oddballs in attics,
from the dress cutter Alka
who kissed me
in the dark of a communal kitchen.
I was put together out of the birthmarks of the Motherland
from scratches and scars,
cradles and cemeteries,
hovels and temples.
My first globe was a rag ball,
without foreign threads,
with brick crumbs sticking to it,
and when I forced my way to
the real globe,
I saw-it was also made of scraps
and also subject to blows.
And I cursed the bloody soccer game,
where they play with the planet without refs or rules,
and any tiny scrap of the planet,
which I touched,
I celebrated!
I went round the planet
as if it were a gigantic Zima Station,
and I learned from the wrinkles of old women,
now Vietnamese, now Peruvian.
I learned folk wisdom
taught by the worldwide poor and scum,
the Eskimo’s smell for ice,
and the Italian’s smiling non-despair.
I learned from Harlem
not to consider poverty poor,
like a Black
whose face is only painted white.
And I understood that the majority bends
its neck on behalf of others,
and in the wrinkles of those necks
the minority hides as if in trenches.
I am branded with the brand of the majority.
I want to be their food and shelter.
I am the name of all without names.
I am a writer for all who don’t write.
I am a writer
created by readers,
and readers are created by me.
My debt has been paid.
Here I am
your creator and your creation,
an anthology of you,
a second edition of your lives.
I stand more naked than Adam,
rejecting court tailors,
the embodiment of imperfections-
yours and my own.
I stand on the ruins
of loves I destroyed.
The ashes of friendships and hopes
coldly fly through my fingers.
Choking on muteness
and the last man to get in line,
I would die for any one of you,
because each of you is my homeland.
I am dying from love
and I howl with pain like a wolf.
If I despise you-
I despise myself even more.
I could fail without you.
Help me to be my real self,
not to stoop to pride,
not to fall into heaven.
I am a shopping bag stuffed
with all the world’s shoppers.
I am everybody’s photographer,
a paparazzo of the infamous.
I am your common portrait,
where so much remains to be painted.
Your faces are my Louvre,
my private Prado.
I am like a video player,
whose cassettes are loaded with you.
I am an attempt at diaries by others
and an attempt at a worldwide newspaper.
You have written yourself
with my tooth-marked pen.
I don’t want to teach you.
I want to learn from you.

Poem – Girl Beatnik

This girl comes from New York
but she does not belong.
Along the neon lights, this girl
runs away from herself.

To this girl the world seems odious-
a moralist who’s been howled down.
It holds no more truths for her.
Now the ‘twist’ alone is true.

With hair mussed and wild,
in spectacles and a coarse sweater,
on spiked heels she dances
the thinnest of negations.

Everything strikes her as false,
everything-from the Bible to the press.
The Montagues exist, and the Capulets,
but there are no Romeos and Juliets.

The trees stoop broodingly,
and rather drunkenly the moon
staggers like a beatnik sulking
along the milky avenue.

Wanders, as if from bar to bar,
wrapped in thought, unsocial,
and the city spreads underneath
in all its hard-hearted beauty.

All things look hard-the roofs and walls,
and it’s no accident that, over the city,
the television antennae rise
like crucifixions without Christ.

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 – 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 – Eight Year Old Poet

On the platform, in Pasternak’s unerased footprints,
leaving behind your own print,
you stand a moment with me in farewell,
eight-year-old poet.

I can’t understand your origins
or from which kind of rain you come.
Created almost in a vacuum, Nika,
you part the rain with a mere glance.

You simply stopped being a child,
burning, tormenting yourself.
As soon as you learned to stand,
you spat your pacifier into the fire.

A secret little queen,
you and your crown have grown into one.
Each illness you’ve survived
is a heavy jewel in your tiara.

I fear that you will suddenly shatter,
and the invisible ring
of the freshly forged white-hot crown
will scorch your childish bangs.

A pencil in your fingers is heavier than a scepter;
your notebook has iron pages.
If a chasm opens at your feet,
you have nothing to lose but your childhood.

Might this be our salvation from a lack of poets,
when children as if from a cliff
leap directly into the poetry-abyss
to fill up the gap?

If elders fear this profession,
children will avenge them.
Will a nursery bring forth a Homer
and kindergarten a Shakespeare?

Children are secret grown-ups. This torments.
All of us are secret children,
and we’ll never grow up completely,
because we fear the children within.

On the platform, in Pasternak’s eternal footprints,
leaving behind your own print,
you sigh a deep moan inside,
eight-year-old poet.

With a burst you skip and run down the platform,
flying with girlish delight,
but when you stumble on your dropped crown
you are no longer a child.

And from the foot-board your eyes call me
into a life where there is no age.
Farewell! It’s too late for me to jump on your train,
eight-year-old poet.

Poem – In Jest

Goodbye, fame! Put someone else in my niche.
I’d swap a seat in the President’s jeep
for a warm corner in a ditch
where I could go soundly off to sleep.
Oh, how I would unload my fears,
pour all my deadly, dreary pride
into the burdocks’ hairy ears
as I lay fidgeting on my side.
And I would wake up, with unshaven chin,
amongst the bugs and little insects.
Oh how marvelously unknown! –
someone fit to dance gypsy steps.
Far off, people would grasp for power,
hang by their nails from the top of the tower,
but none of this would send me sour,
in a ditch I would be lower.
And there, embracing a mangy dog,
I would lie down and make my berth
in the friendly dust, holding dialogue
on the highest level-of the earth.
Alongside, the bare feet of a girl
would float innocently by,
and pale blades of grass would twirl
down from the haycarts between me and the sky.
On a bench a smoker would toss out
a cigarette pack, squashed and empty,
and from the label the twisted mouth
of Blok would sadly smile at me.

Poem – Breaking Up

I fell out of love: that’s our story’s dull ending,
as flat as life is, as dull as the grave.
Excuse me-I’ll break off the string of this love song
and smash the guitar. We have nothing to save.

The puppy is puzzled. Our furry small monster
can’t decide why we complicate simple things so-
he whines at your door and I let him enter,
when he scratches at my door, you always go.

Dog, sentimental dog, you’ll surely go crazy,
running from one to the other like this-
too young to conceive of an ancient idea:
it’s ended, done with, over, kaput. Finis.

Get sentimental and we end up by playing
the old melodrama, ‘Salvation of Love.’
‘Forgiveness, ‘ we whisper, and hope for an echo;
but nothing returns from the silence above.

Better save love at the very beginning,
avoiding all passionate ‘neves, ‘ ‘forever; ‘
we ought to have heard what the train wheels were shouting,
‘Do not make promises! ‘ Promises are levers.

We should have made note of the broken branches,
we should have looked up at the smokey sky,
warning the witless pretensions of lovers-
the greater the hope is, the greater the lie.

True kindness in love means staying quite sober,
weighing each link of the chain you must bear.
Don’t promise her heaven-suggest half an acre;
not ‘unto death, ‘ but at least to next year.

And don’t keep declaring, ‘I love you, I love you.’
That little phrase leads a durable life-
when remembered again in some loveless hereafter,
it can sting like a hornet or stab like a knife.

So-our little dog in all his confusion
turns and returns from door to door.
I won’t say ‘forgive me’ because I have left you;
I ask pardon for one thing: I loved you before.

Poem – Weddings

Weddings in days of war,
false cheating comfort,
those hollow phrases:
‘He won’t get killed…’
On a snowbound winter road,
slashed by a cruel wind,
I speed to a hasty wedding
in a neighboring village.
Gingerly I enter
a buzzing cottage,
I, a folk dancer of repute,
with a forelock dangling
from my forehead.
All spruced up, disturbed,
among relatives and friends
the bridegroom sits, just mobilized,
distraught.
Sits with Vera-his bride-
but in a day or two
he’ll pull on a gray soldier’s coat
and, wearing it, leave for the front.
Then with a rifle he will go,
tramping over alien soil;
a German bullet, perhaps,
will lay him low…
A glass of foaming home brew
he’s not able yet to drink.
Their first night together
will likely be their last.
Chagrined, the bridegroom stares,
and with all his soul in anguish
cries to me across the table:
‘Well, go on, why don’t you dance! ‘
They all forget their drinking,
all fix me with goggling eyes,
and I slide and writhe,
beating a rhythm with my hooves.
Now I drum a tattoo,
now drag my toes
across the floor.
Whistling shrilly,
I clap my hands,
leap up near the ceiling.
Slogans on the wall fly past,
‘Hitler will be kaput! ‘
But the bride
scalds
her face
with tears.
I’m already a wet rag,
barely catch my breath…
‘Dance! ‘-
they shout in desperation,
and I dance again…
Back home, my ankles
feel as stiff as wood;
but from yet another wedding
drunken guests
come knocking at the door once more.
Soon as mother lets me go,
I’m off to weddings once again,
and round the tablecloth anew
I stamp my feet and bend my knees.
The bride sheds bitter tears,
friends are tearful too.
I’m afraid for everyone.
I’ve no desire to dance,
but you can’t not dance.