Sea Sickness

Translated by Reginald Gibbons

O mer!
O mœurs!
O merde contemporaine!

What’s left of my battles and my turmoil
is in my seaside cabin: this roiling air.
And yet it’s what’s outside that makes me shiver.
Not the ocean coldness — something heavier.

Hot black tea might help — it revives.
Two kinds of glass are at hand for my thirst:
that windowpane, this tumbler for my tea.
If  I stare through the faceted clear sides
of   the second at the first,
I’ll see the darkness squinting back at me.
I can’t deny that even though my eye — 
clairvoyant as a crystal ball — clinks like it can see
something, I don’t know what comes next    ...    

(Zek — zek — whetstones on knives    ...    
a nickering    ...    Here comes a horse, it whinnies
and the rider — Stick him!, thieves shout
as they leap down from a tree and stab,
then they lead the horse away
down the long snowbound shore.)

Windswept snow and sand are sorrel: tea leaves
scalded by sunset. Sea foam rushes up these shores
to decorate some fir trees but not others.
And on the withers of a wave
 a gull-equestrian comes riding in — 


Haie! Here they both are!
Snow explodes like sugar
that someone is stabbing with a spoon
in a glass of chai.

And the tea-air sweetens, the snow-sand dissolves,
the light of  it switched off, spent, an omen:
now look — from deep within the firmament
Time has bobbed up like the moon:
the clock face of  a slice of   lemon.

I clink the teaspoon in the glass — what’s that about?
And even though each hourly radius
of   the lemon slice is fixed in the white rind,
between these translucencies pressed pulp spills out.

Like lime or lemon, the taste of  Time is sour — 
and yet it has no odor, color, hour.

My clinking teaspoon’s yet another of
my self-delusions, since it’s only the glass
that answers it, and Time
says nothing in reply — like all the other governings
that invite us to believe
they have their power over us.

In every object, quick or dead, there’s Time,
yet Time itself  is unaware of   Time — 
the way a gull (such a polyglot
of  fish-tongues), soaring in the dark,
unknowingly glows at ten to two,
her wings the phosphorescent hands of a clock.

No people in this region. But — do people
exist at all? And the so-called base and superstructure
get, at best, a grade of  C (in Russian, “three,”
troika — a kind of carriage — in which the Uriah Heeps
are riding toward our “bright new future”    ...    ).

Oh, plenty of   hearty pink-faced people (gray-faced, too)
here    ...    but are they that real? There’s only sea and tides
and more of the same. Sea air throws bombast
at my cabin and makes it talk.
My window’s blinded by a heavy foamy sea-pulp blast.

At the bottom of my tea glass — sweetest sweet.
But sugar specks are stuck to the sides,
scarcely rinsed by waves of tea,
whether attacked or not by my spoon.

Now come the many stars that the sky is, or was — 
like the American flag on the moon — 

but under such a sky, who feels he needs
Kant’s categorical imperative?

So Time is always empty, a negative,
and doesn’t bother us
the way this landscape does.


I could have sparkled like a Cicero!
But even out here all words are turned into a game
of  ping-pong, which makes my silenced brain
come bubbling out my throat — it’s just one more white foam    ...    

And only an insatiable gull’s scream of dissent
marks this deaf   land not as the island of a castaway
  but as a massive continent.


Translated from the Russian

More Poems by Ilya Kutik