They bring to him from a town in the country
three months of note paper, tobacco, and untrimmed books.
“What’s the news from Petersburg, dear Gnedich?
I’m far from you, terribly ill
I do nothing but sit in my summerhouse the whole day,
having piled the table with a notebook and quills …”
“Pray tell why Rome’s people are today so festive?”
Crossed out. “What celebration on the squares
of the world capital?”
“To write a dying wish, Gnedich,
but where to find words for such sweet sounds?
I began a poem. God sees
it’ll be a composition of praise …”
Meanwhile they closed down the crossing.
The cows come, hearing the rap of the pail,
and the smell of fresh cuttings from the yard.
“I will not step to wild applause upon Capitoline!
Crossed out. A plaything of cruel fate,
now I stand over the fated abyss!”
But sister calls it home,
since dinner. Fried mushrooms,
cold veal with horseradish,
sheep flank, buckwheat kasha,
and a frosted glass of Russian vodka.
“Everything in the world is now hateful,
and if I last another decade,
most likely, my Gnedich, I’ll go mad …”
It’s midnight in the country. They’re asleep.
A single window in the house burns, but it’s
his sister’s window. She’s reading a letter,
and then the candle, flickering into shadow, goes out.
“Sorrento! the cradle of sorrowful days,
where at night as if a trembling Askany
I ran, having delivered myself to the waves in grace …”
Meanwhile, a star clambered into the sky,
green as an apple
swaying the whole night on a branch,
our bard does not gaze upon the stars
in the ether as he’s asleep, fate intertwining
words and only the Vologodsky cows,
bowing horns, shuffle to Capitoline.
To Afanasy Mamedov
A Caspian wind rustles the darkened
branches of the sturdy cypresses,
springing up on this wintry town.
a museum guard,
an old Bakinets, in a whitewashed overcoat,
flips through his keys like a fish
at market. He opens the tomb’s
door, but doesn’t himself enter.
He waits near the cleaved cypresses,
lifting his hands in prayer.
I cover the shutter and remain alone
against the bare wall. Seven gravestones
within the crypt, paralyzed.
Reminiscent of boats
(or trolley cars), frozen
into the cold limestone.
Who is lying within these boats?
When did they set out?
Several lines of Kufic elms—
that’s all that remains:
“The most esteemed Shah and court poet,
having both written and sung hymns,
today, with sorrow, I pile up their verse.
In the year eight hundred and ninety
khidzhra death Halleluallah!
beneath these stones lie his ashes and bones”
Tell me, who would know of you,
King of Apsheron, with land
from Shemakh to Shekhi and beyond?
If not a Kaby mark on stone, who,
today, would exchange words with you?
It matters little how you lay, how intricate
your bracelets’ designs, for your ashes
will be dust in time, which also too will pass.
On the third day we decided
to head out of town in the direction of Bailov.
I’d heard the oil derricks of Nobel’s brothers
were still out there
and for some reason I wanted to see.
It was a gorgeous day—
as the sea flowed into the sky—
for two shirvans a taxi driver in earflaps,
previously a Moscow chemical engineer,
tossed us around over a hill in its direction,
and dropped us off beside a large mosque.
built not long ago, still shone,
like an éclair, against a backdrop
of port cranes.
With a shawl wrapped around your head
from the wind, you stayed on the parapet
and looked down on the blind sea.
I lay down on the loose slope,
where there’d been an old graveyard with terraces,
and the higher I reached the less
I became your silhouette; the older
the stones seemed; the dryer
the grass with tendrils shooting out.
Some burrows and holes gaped in the earth,
fragments of sepulchral vaults:
everything swirled above. Nothing
was clear—the air roaring and rumbling
in my ears the whole time.
…………So they lay down,
the Girkansky winds blowing,
their bleak, worn forms,
and the rusty towers of Nobel’s brothers
continued nodding their heads.
And I thought: I’m dying, let
the stones crumble and heels freeze,
let the words blow out onto the gravestones
wind—or dashing garbage—
I will turn from side to side,
now facing the east, then the north,
and repeat a name in a foreign dialect:
counting the rocking derricks