I travel on and on. The road always starts
wheeling away, circling back,
rather like Russian literature;
Radishchev travelled from Petersburg to Moscow,
so Anna Karenina might fall under the wheels of his train.
I travel on and on to England,
wondering why in such a hurry,
just as I’d made up my mind to start a poem
about archangelic sighs—
Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, oh…
I travel on and on around England.
Opposite me, in the London-Brighton train,
is an Englishman—eyebrows peaked like little roofs,
lips bowlike, himself from Brighton—
reading a paper. A real, live Englishman,
image of his townsman, Chaplin!
The conductor’s made a fuss, fit to stop the heart:
“Mind you don’t miss your station.”
I’d no intention of missing anything. Outside,
sheep, cows, grazing
bees scudding about, big cats prowling
(The Sunday Times had an item on the new panther pride,
jaguars, liberated by well-wishers
in Sussex), but I journey on; for me
each station represents a final point of arrival.
The iron beat of voices, a fellow-traveller unbuttons enough
to smile: “No need to be afraid, dear,
wherever you go, whenever, you’re always at home.”
From beginning to end and the other way round,
it’s the same distance, i.e.
past and future equidistant.
And it’s all the same, too, whether
you’re going or coming back; the real’s right there,
outside, whatever my connection with it,
if there be any, perhaps in the past
or future. The real is where you’re not,
and so it’s only there
you genuinely try to reach.
The country’s gone to the dogs… Turn it over
like pebbles on the beach, each one
on its other side, check it out:
who’s there: brit, scot, angle, saxon?
The shore’s strewn with the dumb outcry of ancient tribes,
several of which I carry off with me.
The ocean keeps casting them up,
the stone folk, so as to drag them down again
into the abyss, and return to the island.
Everything passes except for England. This island
is washed about by love, though its foam
produced no goddess. Mist, rather,
and mist mystery, mystery
lunacy. A Russian philosopher, Chayadaev,
plumbed his own mystery here two centuries ago,
and since then, going mad has been de
rigueur in Russia.
Strolling past an old pier,
he stooped to pick up one or another of the goggle-eyed pebbles,
occasionally dropping it into the pocket of his frock coat,
or leaving it, for me to pick up later,
knowingly laying it aside for whoever might step
onto this shore in a century or so.
Don’t want this, or that,
but who’s asking! Soap bubbles
burst, people are trying to pull a fool’s cap
over your head,
A queen carefully sticks out his tongue;
they’re gathering from all over the shrunken world.
Parade of gays in the capital of gays. Beardsley
turning in his grave. The procession raves
under the windows of the Georgian house,
where he spent his innocent childhood;
I spent a week with the artist and his large family.
Germans from Japan, Japanese from Germany,
their hands busy with cardboard slabs of cod.
The cod photographs lesbians dousing each other with
coca-cola. They moan:
It’s been so hot this summer,
the railings are melting, not to speak of everything else.
One has to strut, babble and scream
“O, shit!” in Russian
The parade is winding through heart and brain,
Making the eyes glass over.
But now a regular patrol of mist creeps in from
and the possessed scatter like bats,
scurry like rats. There are none left—
only good old England,
looking me straight in the eye.
Outside the three-storied house on Marine Parade,
a pearly moon rose.
There it is, over old England,
where even Shakespeare was moonfaced.
The blinds, gathered like a princess’s skirt,
strain towards the ball.
The wind, of course, is building once more, urging them on.
The ocean breathes so deep,
it’s impossible to die. The moon is ultra-heavy,
hard to read its inscriptions.
Hands are tired of clutching its successive tomes,
super-long thoughts, like patience—
you spread the pack of cards,
and they don’t come out.
With short thoughts it’s a lot simpler—
you dispose of them like an unknown’s forgotten bookmarks,
continue to stare at the full-dress portrait of the moon,
under which it’s the same old England
with its ten million heads, the backs at least;
a long time since all those heads,
asked to be chopped off!
England’s horizontality allows it to fill in horizons,
which is why Englishmen always and everywhere remain so.
For the Englishman, thoughts bloom like a little garden,
which each day he weeds,
his eyes pure and innocent forget-me-not or pansies.
And so many fences—these flowers have to be protected.
Look the Englishman in the eye and isn’t it yourself you see?
Of course, you don’t actually.
The Englishman is an inviolable tower,
with a deep moat round, filled to the brim
with bodies, good old England’s enemies;
England has left a word or two of its lingo
in every nook and cranny of the world.
Having made it a rule to pray en route to the angelic powers,
you find them everywhere:
Michael protector against evil, Gabriel dispatcher of good news,
and Raphael, a jolly travelling companion,
always good for a joke.
Now the Archangel Raphael is standing two paces
away from me at a bus stop,
in a tweed jacket, essential clothing
for the journey from Brighton to London.
I’m carrying a handbag, answerable for my life,
The tweed jacket in the 40 degree weather
has to be a nuisance.
But in England even archangels dress like gents
and think it was pointless for the philosopher Leontev
to have explained how awkward jackets are.
So, in his jacket and well-pressed pants,
Raphael is curious, inquiring of the driver:
”Does this bus go as far as Stockholm?”
“Of course, but not today”—
the driver, too, is an angel.
“In a week’s time. Today
it’s just London,
Oaks, chestnuts, beeches, maples,
dog-rose, honeysuckle, willow-herb
roses, peonies, golden glow…
Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Kurds,
All, without exception, in family hand-me-downs
and hats with gaudy feathers.
Americans from the prairies, Arabs
from the desert, Asians from the steppes,
Russian from the forests and unkempt places.
Languages, dialects, etcetera… Yarmolkas, turbans, hats,
yashmaks, dresses… Rozanov, another
Russian crazy, popularizing
Slavic philosophy, having ripped away
the orthodox veil, drowned it in a mikva.
English philosophy’s not so easy as that.
Synagogues, mosques, taj mahals, cathedrals
leave traces on every face.
Historical or anti-historical, cultural and anti
memorials spring up, like poets.
Just this foursome of globe-trotting
Liverpudlians—wherever you are, so they are too:
at the endless breakfast, on the cropped lawn,
on the banks of the Thames, scrubbing banknotes,
at the market. English merchandise
is always so pricey. Especially in Russia.
Already at the time of the Russo-Turkish war
it was: “Superb coat, must be English cloth”. English birds
are also pricey, more exactly their eggs.
This island is more than a world, swallowed the latter, in fact.
Saris, smoking-jackets, taluses, lapserdaks…
Acquaintances, meetings, partings, deaths…
Everybody has tried to discover you, England,
and has. Here am I,
run aground on your island like a new
Robinson; I can hardly wait for my Friday,
But our artist friend won’t play the part,
has prepared himself for death. I persuade him
not to die: Friend, you’ve still got three gardens
to lay out,
three children to give birth to,
three archangels to paint.
Cries of seagulls (so it seems to me but I
they’re cormorants), children sobbing, cars hooting,
dogs howling, the rasp of shingle, chortle of waves,
People are vacationing as usual, eating as usual,
drinking beer same way, quarrelling,
like seagulls, reluctant to share
that greasy slice of pizza:
Hate you! Fuck off! Fuck you!
From the sea creep two Russian killers,
outfitted as usual:
black suits, black ties, shades,
in their hands shoes, also black.
They’ll not kill me, I don’t interest them,
it’s for England they’ve come.
More Russians here than Englishmen—among them
and Lenin. They wander around Brighton, London,
eye the Royal Pavilion, the world trade fair,
jump to conclusions—
Russians jump to more conclusions than other folk,
and not very secret services listen in.
What’s good, what’s bad?
The reference points are out of whack.
Words are noise to which the organ or hearing is
Balls being struck, ambulance sirens, clatter of
heels, roar of a pair of jets,
reading the sky in Braille,
rustle of The Times and Brighton fruit-drop wrappers.
The ear takes in everything except words.
Another couple of Russians start a fire on the beach,
lay a spud in it; they laugh.
Tomorrow the Sea will be Black.
How long does it take to delete all traces of an original
Russian burnt site!
Their heads filled with Dostoyevsky, they’ve come here to kill off
good old England. The artist I was visiting,
reveres Keats and Mrs. Garnett’s little garden.
He says: “You Russians have something to be proud of.”
Well, yes, I am proud of the fact I collected all those pebbles.
It’s not the right time to strew them around.
The artist lives alone, scared of tax inspectors, old age
and death; I promise him a long and easy life.
I admire the man, not too tired to spout words.
Once or twice each day he vanishes,
like the mythic Nottingham lion,
but always reappears in the evening,
to talk about Brancusi, Turner or Michelangelo,
depending on the weather.
Russians create a brotherhood not of blood, but just talk,
telling all, answering one another,
not waiting to be asked.
What’s more, for Russians something is always dimly apparent,
recalled, believed… Especially in England somehow,
especially at 3 Powis Gardens. O Michael, Gabriel,
Raphael… O Daniel… From the archangels to the most silent
prophet, from prophet to translator and poet,
living uneasily with his Russian wife,
across from the Greek Church of St. Michael.
However, Russians, like other people, generally travel the world,
so as to see mountains and rivers,
bridges and squares, griffons and lions,
and assume they’ve seen it all.
As for me, wherever I go,
it’s not so as to arrive, but so as to leave.
I’ve had so swiftly to abandon Albion’s “misty” shore.
But not alone—in the company of super escorts;
we’re going the same way, as far as Sweden.
Behind me, dry kisses of straining gays,
shoot up the air en route from the capital.
Thousands of images seen from the morning bus,
as it careers towards the airport,
a glimmer with strange dreams.
A field dives behind the edge of a forest,
losing itself in the air-brushed mist.
Lucky it, you sigh… Behind,
Sodom dignifies Gomorra, crying: “Hey, baby!”
No, you do not wish on them the fate of Stalingrad
though you’re in no hurry to turn into
Lot’s wife either. So you suffer,
as always when you’re trying to keep to yourself,
silently contemplating the oracles
that are wafted in on the wings of archangels.
August 2003 - October 2004