Letters to Yakub
"...a very fine translator, who has managed not to lay the usual net of throat-clearing archaism over the poems, as is so often the distancing way in translation - particularly, I would say, from Russian. So much of even the very best Russian verse, however contemporary, reads in English translation as if it were slightly arch. These do not. Their clarity is wonderful, really cutting". — FIONA SAMPSON

*  *  *

a trailing blue light

along a suburban lane

—never that close or far,

burns dimly, warily,

like a beacon in the rafters

who’s spent these past nights

lowered onto a bed of pines,

stars dotting the sky, —

his bizarre chalk marks

splintering up to a celestial

washtub—this tiny peephole

in the door remains shut

*   *   *

poetry grows from nothing—

like a picture

facing a window,

or rather, the moment

shadows appear on the wall

of trees growing

beyond the window—

the canvas remains untouched,

though the sketched river

flows—and the shadows, in contrast,

appear and fade

(depending on the clouds)

floating bit by bit

along the river

a wall is a single fixed

thing, but because

no one sees it

(and what’s upon it)—a poem

in motion / rest,

object / subject,

art and life

(not to mention the window)

remains un-


*  *  *


our dead’s

frozen cellos

pulled from cases—

day after day, note for note,

plucking weakly, dry strings

—we recall their sound


Butcher stalls of Rubens.

Goya’s beaten birds, feathers daubed in mud.

Bosch’s shrimp, Brueghel’s entrails―

seething, boiling in enormous vats.

El Greco’s dried fish.

Dwarves scurry between the counters, buffoons.

“Pedro Ivanoviz Potemki” in a fur hat.

Shouting, the clatter of horses, clanging metal―

everything merges in the din of a single bazaar.

Raphael’s rows of linen the sole calm―

wind playing in the sky-blue lengths.

And then another thump, gnashing, curses.

A severed ear bleeds on the floor.

“Hoist it up!”―someone shouts in a gruff voice.

A cross’s silhouette emerges in the sky.

Everyone stops.

The sound of a flame crackling in a cave

echoes over this infinite moment of silence.

The splashing of oars fording a river.

Hieronymous’s rustling incunabula

and the rumble of spinning wheels.


. . . . . We woke early the next day,

kissed in bed, not opening our eyes,

like bats. Two drawings,

two sketches on the canvas of Madrid.

A painting no one will see.


leaps onto a person—

tears at his buttons and belt;

rips off sleeves and pockets—

squeezes / plucks / slashes / cuts

drapes him on a hanger

hanged in the closet, forgotten—

someone nobody needed

—struggling to breathe,

lolling at the pink


*  *  *

man is made of what he eats and drinks,

breathes in, puts on over the years,

—and like everyone else, I read the book from the end;

a sunken boat carried off to a braided river,

frozen sheets rising from frost in the house

and these people now sitting with me at the same table;

in the beginning, transparent darkness and dense speech—

you open a page only to find it’s blank