Poem – Dreams

All people dream, but not equally.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind,
Wake in the morning to find that it was vanity.

But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people,
For they dream their dreams with open eyes,
And make them come true.

poem – new year’s night

Now you are mine, to-night at last I say it;
You’re a dove I have bought for sacrifice,
And to-night I slay it.

Here in my arms my naked sacrifice!
Death, do you hear, in my arms I am bringing
My offering, bought at great price.

She’s a silvery dove worth more than all I’ve got.
Now I offer her up to the ancient, inexorable God,
Who knows me not.

Look, she’s a wonderful dove, without blemish or spot!
I sacrifice all in her, my last of the world,
Pride, strength, all the lot.

All, all on the altar! And death swooping down
Like a falcon. ‘Tis God has taken the victim;
I have won my renown.

poem – trust

Oh we’ve got to trust
one another again
in some essentials.

Not the narrow little
bargaining trust
that says: I’m for you
if you’ll be for me. –

But a bigger trust,
a trust of the sun
that does not bother
about moth and rust,
and we see it shining
in one another.

Oh don’t you trust me,
don’t burden me
with your life and affairs; don’t
thrust me
into your cares.

But I think you may trust
the sun in me
that glows with just
as much glow as you see
in me, and no more.

But if it warms
your heart’s quick core
why then trust it, it forms
one faithfulness more.

And be, oh be
a sun to me,
not a weary, insistent
personality

but a sun that shines
and goes dark, but shines
again and entwines
with the sunshine in me

till we both of us
are more glorious
and more sunny.

poem – snake

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
me.

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Silently.

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.

poem – sickness

WAVING slowly before me, pushed into the dark,
Unseen my hands explore the silence, drawing the bark
Of my body slowly behind.

Nothing to meet my fingers but the fleece of night
Invisible blinding my face and my eyes! What if in their flight
My hands should touch the door!

What if I suddenly stumble, and push the door
Open, and a great grey dawn swirls over my feet, before
I can draw back!

What if unwitting I set the door of eternity wide
And am swept away in the horrible dawn, am gone down the tide
Of eternal hereafter!

Catch my hands, my darling, between your breasts.
Take them away from their venture, before fate wrests
The meaning out of them.

poem – a love song

Reject me not if I should say to you
I do forget the sounding of your voice,
I do forget your eyes that searching through
The mists perceive our marriage, and rejoice.

Yet, when the apple-blossom opens wide
Under the pallid moonlight’s fingering,
I see your blanched face at my breast, and hide
My eyes from diligent work, malingering.

Ah, then, upon my bedroom I do draw
The blind to hide the garden, where the moon
Enjoys the open blossoms as they straw
Their beauty for his taking, boon for boon.

And I do lift my aching arms to you,
And I do lift my anguished, avid breast,
And I do weep for very pain of you,
And fling myself at the doors of sleep, for rest.

And I do toss through the troubled night for you,
Dreaming your yielded mouth is given to mine,
Feeling your strong breast carry me on into
The peace where sleep is stronger even than wine.

Poem – Kosmos

WHO includes diversity, and is Nature,
Who is the amplitude of the earth, and the coarseness and sexuality
of the earth, and the great charity of the earth, and the
equilibrium also,
Who has not look’d forth from the windows, the eyes, for nothing, or
whose brain held audience with messengers for nothing;
Who contains believers and disbelievers–Who is the most majestic
lover;
Who holds duly his or her triune proportion of realism, spiritualism,
and of the aesthetic, or intellectual,
Who, having consider’d the Body, finds all its organs and parts good;
Who, out of the theory of the earth, and of his or her body,
understands by subtle analogies all other theories,
The theory of a city, a poem, and of the large politics of These
States;
Who believes not only in our globe, with its sun and moon, but in
other globes, with their suns and moons;
Who, constructing the house of himself or herself, not for a day, but
for all time, sees races, eras, dates, generations, 10
The past, the future, dwelling there, like space, inseparable
together.

Poem – Behavior

BEHAVIOR–fresh, native, copious, each one for himself or herself,
Nature and the Soul expressed–America and freedom expressed–In it
the finest art,
In it pride, cleanliness, sympathy, to have their chance,
In it physique, intellect, faith–in it just as much as to manage an
army or a city, or to write a book–perhaps more,
The youth, the laboring person, the poor person, rivalling all the
rest–perhaps outdoing the rest,
The effects of the universe no greater than its;
For there is nothing in the whole universe that can be more effective
than a man’s or woman’s daily behavior can be,
In any position, in any one of These States.

Poem – Faces

SAUNTERING the pavement, or riding the country by-road–lo! such
faces!
Faces of friendship, precision, caution, suavity, ideality;
The spiritual, prescient face–the always welcome, common, benevolent
face,
The face of the singing of music–the grand faces of natural lawyers
and judges, broad at the back-top;
The faces of hunters and fishers, bulged at the brows–the shaved
blanch’d faces of orthodox citizens;
The pure, extravagant, yearning, questioning artist’s face;
The ugly face of some beautiful Soul, the handsome detested or
despised face;
The sacred faces of infants, the illuminated face of the mother of
many children;
The face of an amour, the face of veneration;
The face as of a dream, the face of an immobile rock; 10
The face withdrawn of its good and bad, a castrated face;
A wild hawk, his wings clipp’d by the clipper;
A stallion that yielded at last to the thongs and knife of the
gelder.

Sauntering the pavement, thus, or crossing the ceaseless ferry,
faces, and faces, and faces:
I see them, and complain not, and am content with all.

Do you suppose I could be content with all, if I thought them their
own finale?

This now is too lamentable a face for a man;
Some abject louse, asking leave to be–cringing for it;
Some milk-nosed maggot, blessing what lets it wrig to its hole.

This face is a dog’s snout, sniffing for garbage; 20
Snakes nest in that mouth–I hear the sibilant threat.

This face is a haze more chill than the arctic sea;
Its sleepy and wobbling icebergs crunch as they go.

This is a face of bitter herbs–this an emetic–they need no label;
And more of the drug-shelf, laudanum, caoutchouc, or hog’s-lard.

This face is an epilepsy, its wordless tongue gives out the unearthly
cry,
Its veins down the neck distended, its eyes roll till they show
nothing but their whites,
Its teeth grit, the palms of the hands are cut by the turn’d-in
nails,
The man falls struggling and foaming to the ground while he
speculates well.

This face is bitten by vermin and worms, 30
And this is some murderer’s knife, with a half-pull’d scabbard.

This face owes to the sexton his dismalest fee;
An unceasing death-bell tolls there.

Those then are really men–the bosses and tufts of the great round
globe!

Features of my equals, would you trick me with your creas’d and
cadaverous march?
Well, you cannot trick me.

I see your rounded, never-erased flow;
I see neath the rims of your haggard and mean disguises.

Splay and twist as you like–poke with the tangling fores of fishes
or rats;
You’ll be unmuzzled, you certainly will. 40

I saw the face of the most smear’d and slobbering idiot they had at
the asylum;
And I knew for my consolation what they knew not;
I knew of the agents that emptied and broke my brother,
The same wait to clear the rubbish from the fallen tenement;
And I shall look again in a score or two of ages,
And I shall meet the real landlord, perfect and unharm’d, every inch
as good as myself.

The Lord advances, and yet advances;
Always the shadow in front–always the reach’d hand bringing up the
laggards.

Out of this face emerge banners and horses–O superb! I see what is
coming;
I see the high pioneer-caps–I see the staves of runners clearing the
way, 50
I hear victorious drums.

This face is a life-boat;
This is the face commanding and bearded, it asks no odds of the rest;
This face is flavor’d fruit, ready for eating;
This face of a healthy honest boy is the programme of all good.

These faces bear testimony, slumbering or awake;
They show their descent from the Master himself.

Off the word I have spoken, I except not one–red, white, black, are
all deific;
In each house is the ovum–it comes forth after a thousand years.

Spots or cracks at the windows do not disturb me; 60
Tall and sufficient stand behind, and make signs to me;
I read the promise, and patiently wait.

This is a full-grown lily’s face,
She speaks to the limber-hipp’d man near the garden pickets,
Come here, she blushingly cries–Come nigh to me, limber-hipp’d man,
Stand at my side till I lean as high as I can upon you,
Fill me with albescent honey, bend down to me,
Rub to me with your chafing beard, rub to my breast and shoulders.

The old face of the mother of many children!
Whist! I am fully content. 70

Lull’d and late is the smoke of the First-day morning,
It hangs low over the rows of trees by the fences,
It hangs thin by the sassafras, the wild-cherry, and the cat-brier
under them.

I saw the rich ladies in full dress at the soiree,
I heard what the singers were singing so long,
Heard who sprang in crimson youth from the white froth and the water-
blue,

Behold a woman!
She looks out from her quaker cap–her face is clearer and more
beautiful than the sky.

She sits in an arm-chair, under the shaded porch of the farmhouse,
The sun just shines on her old white head. 80

Her ample gown is of cream-hued linen,
Her grandsons raised the flax, and her granddaughters spun it with
the distaff and the wheel.

The melodious character of the earth,
The finish beyond which philosophy cannot go, and does not wish to
go,
The justified mother of men.

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 – 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 – 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

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 – 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 – The Rain 

When my older brother 

came back from war 

he had on his forehead a little silver star 

and under the star 

an abyss 

a splinter of shrapnel 

hit him at Verdun 

or perhaps at Grünwald 

(he’d forgotten the details) 

he used to talk much 

in many languages 

but he liked most of all 

the language of history 

until losing breath 

he commanded his dead pals to run 

Roland Kowaski Hannibal 

he shouted 

that this was the last crusade 

that Carthage soon would fall 

and then sobbing confessed 

that Napoleon did not like him 

we looked at him 

getting paler and paler 

abandoned by his senses 

he turned slowly into a monument 

into musical shells of ears 

entered a stone forest 

and the skin of his face 

was secured 

with the blind dry 

buttons of eyes 

nothing was left him 

but touch 

what stories 

he told with his hands 

in the right he had romances 

in the left soldier’s memories 

they took my brother 

and carried him out of town 

he returns every fall 

slim and very quiet 

he does not want to come in 

he knocks at the window for me 

we walk together in the streets 

and he recites to me 

improbable tales 

touching my face 

with blind fingers of rain 

Poem – Architecture 

Over a delicate arch–

an eyebrow of stone–

on the unruffled forehead

of a wall

in joyful and open windows

where there are faces instead of geranium

where rigorous rectangles

border a dreaming perspective

where a stream awakened by an ornament

flows on a quiet field of surfaces
movement meets stillness a line meets a shout

trembling uncertainty simple clarity
you are there

architecture

art of fantasy and stone
there you reside beauty

over an arch

light as a sigh
on a wall

pale from altitude
and a window

tearful with a pane of glass
a fugitive from apparent forms

I proclaim your motionless dance 

Poem – Three Poems By Heart

I
I can’t find the title

of a memory about you

with a hand torn from darkness

I step on fragments of faces
soft friendly profiles

frozen into a hard contour
circling above my head

empty as a forehead of air

a man’s silhouette of black paper
II
living–despite

living- -against

I reproach myself for the sin of forgetfulness
you left an embrace like a superfluous sweater

a look like a question
our hands won’t transmit the shape of your hands

we squander them touching ordinary things
calm as a mirror

not mildewed with breath

the eyes will send back the question
every day I renew my sight

every day my touch grows

tickled by the proximity of so many things
life bubbles over like blood

Shadows gently melt

let us not allow the dead to be killed–
perhaps a cloud will transmit remembrance–

a worn profile of Roman coins
III
the women on our street

were plain and good

they patiently carried from the markets

bouquets of nourishing vegetables
the children on our street

scourge of cats
the pigeons–
softly gray
a Poet’s statue was in the park

children would roll their hoops

and colorful shouts

birds sat on the Poet’s hand

read his silence
on summer evenings wives

waited patiently for lips

smelling of familiar tobacco
women could not answer

their children: will he return

when the city was setting

they put the fire out with hands

pressing their eyes
the children on our street

had a difficult death

pigeons fell lightly

like shot down air
now the lips of the Poet

form an empty horizon

birds children and wives cannot live

in the city’s funereal shells

in cold eiderdowns of ashes
the city stands over water

smooth as the memory of a mirror

it reflects in the water from the bottom
and flies to a high star

where a distant fire is burning

like a page of the Iliad 

Poem – What Our Dead Do

Jan came this morning—

I dreamt of my father

he says
he was riding in an oak coffin

I walked next to the hearse

and father turned to me:
you dressed me nicely

and the funeral is very beautiful

at this time of year so many flowers

it must have cost a lot
don’t worry about it father

—I say—let people see

we loved you

that we spared nothing
six men in black livery

walk nicely at our sides
father thought for a while

and said—the key to the desk

is in the silver inkwell

there is still some money

in the second drawer on the left
with this money—I say—

we will buy you a gravestone

a large one of black marble
it isn’t necessary—says father—

better give it to the poor
six men in black livery

walk nicely at our sides

they carry burning lanterns
again he seemed to be thinking

—take care of the flowers in the garden

cover them for the winter

I don’t want them to be wasted
you are the oldest—he says—

from a little felt bag behind the painting

take out the cuff links with real pearls

let them bring you luck

my mother gave them to me

when I finished high school

then he didn’t say anything

he must have entered a deeper sleep
this is how our dead

look after us

they warn us through dreams

bring back lost money

hunt for jobs

whisper the numbers of lottery tickets

or when they can’t do this

knock with their fingers on the windows
and out of gratitude

we imagine immortality for them

snug as the burrow of a mouse