In the Lake Region

By Tomas Venclova Tomas Venclova

Translated By Ellen Hinsey Read the translator's notes

When you open the door, everything falls into place—
the little ferry by the wharf, fir trees and thujas.   
An old woman, feeding ducks, seems as old as Leni   
Riefenstahl. At the base of the hill, chestnut trees, not yet in full bloom,   
are younger—but probably as old as her films.   
All is wet and bright. A hedgehog or God-knows-whose-soul   
is rummaging in last year's leaves. Dead water and living water   
fill the plain. The twins Celsius and Fahrenheit   
are predicting spring weather—while a shadow obscures   
the past (just like the present). The first serene weeks scour the bridges   
in a peaceful corner of Europe between Wannsee and Potsdam—where   
much has happened, but, probably, nothing more will.   
For days we have been watching a ragged crow—in the garden,   
sometimes on the roof. The ancients would have said her   
stubbornness augurs something. Emerging from the wood's   
depths, she lights on one antenna crossbar   
then another, her surface bright as mercury   
in a thermometer's glass. But these are fever marks   
we are incapable of understanding. The beginning of agony?   
The past does not enlighten us—but still, it attempts   
to say something. Perhaps the crow knows more about us   
and about history's dirt than we do ourselves.   
Of what does she want to remind us? Of the black photos, the black headphones
of radio operators, black signatures under documents,   
of the unarmed with their frozen pupils—of the prisoner's boot or the trunk   
of the refugee? Probably not. We will remember this anyway,   
though it won't make us any wiser. The bird signifies only stoicism   
and patience. If you ask for them, your request will be granted.

Source: Poetry (April 2008).


This poem originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2008


Tomas Venclova is the author of numerous books of poetry, essays, literary biography, and conversation. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

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SUBJECT Living, Nature, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

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