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 – 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 – 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 -Fairy Land 

Dim vales- and shadowy floods

-And cloudy-looking woods,

Whose forms we can’t discover

For the tears that drip all over!

Huge moons there wax and wane-

Again- again- again-

Every moment of the night-

Forever changing places-

And they put out the star-light

With the breath from their pale faces.

About twelve by the moon-dial,

One more filmy than the rest

(A kind which, upon trial,

They have found to be the best)

Comes down- still down- and down,

With its centre on the crown

Of a mountain’s eminence,

While its wide circumference

In easy drapery falls

Over hamlets, over halls,

Wherever they may be-

O’er the strange woods- o’er the sea-

Over spirits on the wing-

Over every drowsy thing-

And buries them up quite

In a labyrinth of light-

And then, how deep!- O, deep!

Is the passion of their sleep.

In the morning they arise,

And their moony covering

Is soaring in the skies,

With the tempests as they toss,

Like- almost anything-

Or a yellow Albatross.

They use that moon no more

For the same end as before-

Videlicet, a tent-

Which I think extravagant:

Its atomies, however,

Into a shower dissever,

Of which those butterflies

Of Earth, who seek the skies,

And so come down again,

(Never-contented things!)

Have brought a specimen

Upon their quivering wings.