||I. Note to the Translator
This is what I have to tell you, but nothing is certain.
It begins, it ends. It's how the air unfolds, coming in
from the sea: two hundred miles of rain?clothed windows.
The geography of a room rising into the crumpled water,
between the salted air and the black swans sleeping on the Desna.
I am worried, not of the swans, but of the river, and of this:
Have I said what I meant to say? Will you believe
that the river is now only a frozen trickle of what it was?
I tell myself that belief comes with instructions
to be read closely by candlelight in a small upstairs room,
Mother playing her violin in the kitchen over a sack
of postcards from Budapest. Beautiful city, beautiful city.
Is this enough? Will you know that when I say speak
I mean speak, that when I sleep I cannot face the window...
There is more to say, of course, but I can go no further tonight.
The porcelain stove under a whistle of steam.
The nurses in the janitor's bed.
Did I say that the Black Sea is folding itself into a napkin,
that a woman is asleep in the next room,
paraffin lamp shining into the garden's blue walls?
I would like to turn it off, and talk with her
about a field of stubborn wheat beyond the city.
How it does not move, even with the wind.
II. Drinking the Wing: St. Moritz Hospital for Children and the Insane
Beyond the patient's backs scrubbed raw and shining
in the candle?washed rooms, there is a street,
then an alley. Winter is over. The rain will not end.
At the top of the staircase, there is a window painted shut.
From here, I can only see the tops of birches, their leaves
spiraling into what resembles a city, the slow beginning of silence.
The doctors tell me this is Switzerland, and I would like it
to be. It seems that if it were true, there would not be so many moths.
I count them out on the sill and paste their wings
onto the window with my spit. The shapes of mouths,
of butter?and?eggs, lily of the valley. What else is there to do?
They think the mouths talk to me, but they are wrong.
It is me that speaks to the mouths. Wings don't speak.
Silly questioners, silly hounds?tongue, gill?over?the?ground.
My mother could never play the violin. She dug in her garden
between the blue stone walls, plucking away the roots of dandelion,
and she never said much, only rubbed my legs (ah, those legs!)
after rehearsal with cod oil and whistled to the mocking bird
asleep on his branch, to the faraway sea, the long road there.
There is something I remember her telling me though,
about the trees near the sea,
how the wind molds them into shapes of what they were
under the soil, before they became what they became, a web of roots,
the nothingness that holds them:
a spoon beside a cup: a spoon drinks the wing.
It's time we talked about the sea, you and I, the cold edge
of this window sill, the connected dance of wave, of sand.
Or, the memory of what I was, of what can never be opened.
The victory of breath over weight is in these legs,
white, uncallused, and closed?in
under the mothy starch of sheets. I sound so pathetic.
What sort of victory is this, my translator, my mother,
my peach?leaved willow?
My head shaved to keep away the lice.
You know, I was a ship once. I could sail across a room.
Now, I'm only a mapmaker and I will draw a map
from me to you but the crumpled water will change
and erase what I set out to become. It's the waves,
the bishop's foamy cap, taking away the land.
I will draw a map of this room, a wall rising
into what is left of the stars. Where the wall
meets the floor there are the heads of moths, a pile of dust.
And what comes from the dust is the need to be swept away,
a garden grown over with frost. The need to be.
I will draw a line here, so you can know that what comes from this
is not the meeting of wall and floor, of sea and air, but a swatch of
against the skin, a long red welt across the back.
III. An Evening Sonata
It begins, it always ends. A full moon. The drying onions,
white over the hospital stove, make it almost untellable, make the tears.
The slightly open mouth repeats it, lets it fall, lets it sink.
You may ask what exactly is beginning? and I can only tell you
that a dirge, dusty and rising from the Cossack's barracks
in the half?light of dusk fills me, and the nested furrows of pigeons
about the church's doors fill me, and the slight grate of the doors
is a hymn, and it may fill me, but to know when the beginning begins
(the sleep, the very thirst of that moment)
is to ask for a thimble of water, drink it, and say it is enough.
Onions netted and shelved, the linen of their cupped hands:
I keep them with me. A rainstorm over the mountains?
Yes, that is with me. The browned photograph of Stanislav,
his eyes the eyes of a sheep nudging open the gate
of mother's carrot?rows, radish tips between each hoof: I keep it,
although we are not allowed to keep anything here, in this house
inside a house. I hide the onions under my bed, next to the sleepy rooms
of Stanislav, my brother, my notebook of sky, my thieving little saint.
The day the organ grinder came, window open, a swallow's nest
napping in the eaves, and you, four years old, watching the monkey
take coins from the grinder. I would have liked to have been there
when you fell, your white face dropping as faces do, from balcony
to balcony, the harp of your chest plinking a song, a raspy one?note sonata
of brick and bone and the simple closing of light that comes before evening.
It would have been easier if you died.
IV. The City of 400 Churches
Back to you I come, Kiev. Mother of blue?shelled domes,
of sodded ghosts, you have painted the old house yellow
and my father is not where I left him, beyond the morning, but before
fields of poppy. I come back to you, empty of what I left with.
There are fewer trees, trunks bathed in the cobbles of your breath.
paving the stalks of bulrush and violets, the river can finally park
its great weight of moon, nuzzle under the boats, and sleep.
* * *
Translator: choose a tongue that wants this city.
where can the living be?
(Here, on the landscape of sky, a meadow of roofs,
elms of chimneys, the graceful movement
of air between us as powerful as it is effortless?)
* * *
I am speaking to you, Kiev, under the elms
the elementary school. Elm? School?
Yes, speak. Whatever you say, it will not
into me, but will rise into what I will become,
into the shallows of Vlata Creek, into the swell of unnamed sea.
* * *
The hospital walls are losing their nails. I wanted the tiny ones to
map of myself to my self, to consider the width of days,
the long walks through fields of poppies. (My father carries a basket
pears under each arm. There is a wasp for each pear, and so on.
This is the last time I will see him.)
* * *
Kiev, you are a small red ribbon in the hair
my mother, asleep in the pantry, mice
in her pockets. I will walk with her to the river
and pass the moujiks in their carved
wooden huts, their stalks of grain boiling
the sides of the road. Black pots of tanning seeds,
their faces flushed and alive under each pot.
It has happened before. It will happen, and I will look
I always do, to the sheep coming up from the washing,
bright against the horizon. They are not clouds.
are not of clouds.
* * *
It is darker tonight, this night. You are my nurse.
to me, Kiev. Tell me that there is enough oil
for the lamps, that behind the church's doors,
dark houses of our childhood) there is a field
within a field, the sorrow that comes with autumn.
I began to think
that even though I cannot dance here,
this hospital of closed doors and onion skin,
that I would like to walk down the hall and turn my head
back and forth, as if the blur of beds and steel racks
of cups would help me remember how it was to rise
the sitting figures in the theaters,
to answer the question and not have to worry
the answer would not be enough.
The fields are newly cleaved. The sky is clear.
newspapers are full of dying words,
and I will never come back.
is no turning back.
V. How Summer Suits Are Washed
I can only tell you that in the fields, the peasants wash with sand
and if one owned a suit it would be used as a seed bag,
a red milk?sack dyed red for the sake of their eyes,
who only see shades of red during cock fights and on
the Cossack's arms. They need color, these peasants, blackened
and grayed. I know this because I lived with them, for a month, or two.
An aunt, an uncle, roosters fighting in the haymow...
I can't remember the time, only the color.
Color, when I was a child, meant something was going to happen.
A sunset: night. A mountain: shadow.
A dance: sunrise. And things did happen, whether I wanted them to
or not: whether that mountain's shadow slowly closed in on me
or if I closed in on myself.
There in the haymow, I was too small to understand
the rooster as it came at me, its desire to cut faces,
any face, with its beak. Through the blood
I could see the bird, waiting for its handful of breadcrumbs,
knowing that what it had done was right.
The peasants, bearded and dull but glowing a faint red, were beautiful,
and they danced for me in that barn, under the lanterns,
under the dim knowledge of pain, and what comes after pain,
which is nothing I could ever say: Which is everything.
And they washed my tiny suit in milk and in sand,
and I will wear it until the lanterns die and the dance ends.
VI. Good Morning, Sea
The ability to lose
the abundance of loss
That is all really
The two are puddles
linked by a child's footprint
in a field of wheat
a black swan lifting
into the day
Is more needed?
Yes, there is something
my mother told me
How the sea is simply
light in an empty room
and what came before
the sea is a photograph
of an open window
in the room next to it
the tremble of a shade
a lamp turned on
I am afraid
this isn't quite right
This fear This ache
It is nothing new
I don't like
the morning anymore
the rain covers it
It has lost