March. The Neva still white, crisp as communion, and as we walk
its bridges, steadying ourselves on the glaze, tubes of ice
slide from the gutter-spouts to the astonishment of dogs, some of whom
have not seen spring before, while others pretend not to remember,
and a woman bends over her late potatoes, sorting and piling, and you say
“in this house lived a friend of my father who was killed” and
“in that house lived another, and in this, a very bad poet no longer known.”
We come to the synagogue and go in, as far back as a forgotten holiness,
where we are told you can whisper into the wall and be heard on the other side.
But the rabbi doesn’t know you are deaf. We whisper into the wall to please him.
A sign in Cyrillic asks for donations, and in exchange we apparently buy
tens of matzos wrapped in paper. There are only a hundred
of us left in the city. While we are here, a fisherman waits on the river,
seated with a bucket beside him, his line in the hole, but in the last hour
water has surrounded his slab of ice, so unbeknownst
he is floating downstream, having caught nothing, cold and delirious
with winter thoughts, as they all are and were, and as for rescue,
no one will come. It is spring. The Neva white and crisp as communion.
ELEGY FOR AN UNKNOWN POET
You who are apart, wanderer, stranger, who bent down in winter
for the lost glove of another, you are ein Fremder on earth
as if you had been written toward us. Listen: bells! You are sheltered
once again in the stillness of childhood, where the slow river remains,
rain singing from a gutterspout, wet bottles, misted grillwork.
Apartness gathers the music of solitude as if it were a glass viola.
Bells ring that are and are not, and the soul is left wandering in the blue night.
You are the one watching, the one dreaming this, the homeless one left behind.
The soul has departed. Thinking, alone with your thoughts,
the poverty of waking life, here where it nears the eternal.
A man stood behind you holding a knife. You walked into the lake until only
your hat could be seen. The dead began to wander quietly in the hall of stars.
Your sister took her life. And then you couldn’t bear the gaze of others.
What you could bear, and for long hours, were the star-filled eyes of a toad.
I am your translator. Pity me. It is impossible to slip ein Fremder into the mouth of another.
Last summer I went with you to the crematorium.
We said poems and covered your body with gloves and roses.
I know that you are dead. Why do you ask and ask what can be done?
Black is the color of footsteps, frost, stillness and tears.
It modifies branches and wings. Blue appears as cloud, flower, ice.
Deer stepping from the forest are also blue. A river is green, but green as well are flecks
of decomposition. Silver, the blossoming poppies, a wind’s voice,
faces of the unborn. Death is their province.
The living, you say, appear unreal to you, as if they were on fire. God uttered a gentle flame
into his heart: O man! Yet the living gaze at the dead, imploring them to appear.
Why? you ask. The dead do not understand this. The living are oblivious to what they are,
measuring time as the flickering of day and night.
Brown are the cesspools, rafters and shadows; golden the day, candles and a tent of stars.
Ivory the hands and limbs of lovers; purple a night wind, nostrils and snails.
A skiff is red, as are wolf and wound. Yellow are the walls of summer.
Sleep is white, as is sickness, shirt and revenant.
What is left us then but darkness? Oneself is always dark and near.
- in memoriam, Svetozar Daniel Simko (1959 – 2004)