Stanzas

By Sergei Gandlevskii Sergei Gandlevskii

Translated By Sasha Dugdale Read the translator's notes

In memory of my mother

I

Speak then. What is it you wanted to say? Was it the way   
The barge slid down the city river in sunset’s pursuit,   
Two thirds of June passed, the twenty-second today   
And summer on tiptoes, in an effort to stretch to the light,   
How the linden trees breathed through the stifling square   
And in July there was thundering, mumbling from every direction?   
But that speech needed gravity, needed some weight at its core   
And not lightness—that, I’m afraid, was deception.   

II

Can you smell it: how sweet-rotting melon scented the greengrocer’s store   
Out of sight in the archway the crashing of empty crates   
On a breeze from the outskirts, the handcars’ jostling call   
And an archive of leaf-fall covered the pavements’ gray.   
Let the Rubik’s Cube fall from your hand, it is not worth the strain   
All effortful planning in vain, take the grapes, eat your fill   
In the quiet backyard on a bench, see for real, there in the rain   
What will come to your mind in the hills and the hollows of hell.

III

And go now, where you were going. But your nights here, in rain   
Especially in rain, the steady bare branch of the upas tree   
Learnt to death like the alphabet, feels for the window pane—
G for glass, touching the frame, the words you heard at her knee   
And although I learnt little at school, I see as if it were now   
Through the flask’s throat and falling from above to beneath   
With an unforgettable shivering, the fine sand heaping below.   
The simplest device, but such an opening for grief.   

IV

You’re done for, you deceiver, you cheat, with the tottering   
Tripod, your cunning replete, beat your rage on the floor like a staff   
That a stream might come forth, ghostly, transparent and blossoming   
With the odor of ozone under the municipal office tin roof.   
The soft furnishings sting you with static—then resound,   
Speak again, as if under duress, without manifesto or school   
If these terrible times, this place the Lord has renounced   
Can fill with such love, the straggler, the spent force that is you.

V

Aged forty-seven and widowed, Aizenstadt, shuffling, feels   
His way round the kitchen to the empty medicine chest   
Is there anything to raise a smile or a glass to here?   
Not even the comical long johns, in mourning and flapping half-mast.   
This place, where a good time means down in the yard by the crates   
Drinking with the men who have seen a good thing or two,   
Making toasts to Esenin and Chenier as if they were once mates   
And another wage packet spent like the last one on booze.      

VI

After death I will leave my beloved city and there, without,   
I will lift my throat to the heavens, my horns tipped back to the earth,   
And marked by my sorrow I will give forth from my trumpeting mouth   
To sound through the autumn wastes, the truths for which speech had no words.   
How the barge was drawn down the river by sunset’s last fingering ray   
How, on my left wrist, time’s steel cooled and hissed   
How the magic door was unlocked with an ordinary key   
Speak. Such misfortune leaves us little else.

Source: Poetry (April 2009).

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2009
 Sergei  Gandlevskii

Biography

Sergei Gandlevskii was born in Moscow in 1952. He has published numerous books of poetry and prose since Perestroika, and was awarded the "Little Booker" in 1996 for his nvel The Trepanation of the Skull. He is currently on the editorial board of the magazine Inostrannaya Literatura (Foreign literature).

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