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From the book Kliazma and Yauza
From the book The Wild Rose
From the book Tristan and Isolde
From the book Old Songs
From the book Gates. Windows. Arches
From the book Stanzas in the Manner of Alexander Pope
From the book Stellae and Inscriptions
From the book The Iambic Verses  
The Chinese Travelogue
From An Unfinished Book
From the book The Evening Song
From the book Elegies
From the book The Beginning of a Book
From the book The Iambic Verses
(1984-1985)
The Elegy That Becomes a Requiem
Tuba mirum spargens sonum…
1.

A scoundrel steals cotton. Last week
it was decreed that the country’s future,
that is, the children, must be taught to use the vise
and drill. We don’t want war.
We don’t want it so much
that everyone will start quaking in their shoes.
And those to the noise of a silencer
eulogize the madness of the brave: some in a balloon,
some run along the water, some have crawled
along live power lines, across a cesspool –
some by themselves, others with an infant on their back –
unknown heroes abandon
their mysterious homelands where
the scoundrel steals cotton. Caravans,
railroad cars, echelons… White noise…
We are up to our ears in endless raw matter.
There is a Muslim Paradise or nirvana
in abundant cotton; somewhere at the end of it
there is the future joy of billions:
the last enemy will fly away in a balloon
and there’ll be silence just as in Leonardo’s windows
into which his posing model is unable to look.

2.

But you, poet! the classic tuba
will not allow a lie; inaudible but unrefined
the military horn, a formidable horn
commands over the checkpoints of the quarantine:
reveille, time to get up!
I, like Bertrand de Born,
want to lament the death of a lord,
even two of them.
The spirit of the Provence instills
me with impertinence. Isn’t our neighbor
worth lamenting over as Plantagenet was?

From the Finnish cliffs to the mountains of Pakistan,
from the islands that once were Japanese
to the plains that once belonged to Poland; further –
horn the bowels of the earth where there’s not a ray of light,
but only the primordial mother oil, the wet-nurse of syndicates, dwells,
to the height where a satellite flies
chirping into the trap of the cavern of space –
it ‘s time to sob. If not about Him,
we still have something to sob about.

3.

But the heart is strange. I cannot say
anything else. What word will
depict its sorrowful Paradise? –
whatever you decide, whatever you conceive,
the gloom of suffering will catch up with it,
like a net, and then a needle will catch a butterfly.
It will be put on the sharp point of someone’s ruin,
and will be put on display.
I know, but it’s not clear from whom,
that there is no malice in its depths –
there a being meets another being,
who rises with the horn of compassion
to his full height of graveside sobbing.
Look, from the catafalque of the state,
strewn with phony tears
(He could’ve done it sooner!) – with closed eyes
where does the exhausted flesh gaze,
having walked the path of sorrows? …Here is Your slave,
Lord,
before You. He’s no longer before us.
My Lady Death, whatever you may touch,
everything acquires strange hope –
finally to live differently and to the fullest.
Here he is, the spirit which is not yet ready for answers
turning to the light with his last light,
floating quite alone along a mournful
wave. Where can we sail…1

4.

Oh, lamentable world! the magic dye-house
that peddles the paints of hope.
Or the motley clothes, like Geryon,
will be bleached by the peroxide
of few words: “Hither, ruin cometh ...”
No, the living won’t see this.
Let’s mourn what we are burying with it.

Without complaining, like the stars of the Zodiac,
we’ll journey along a common path
like the one to our own saints, who are killed
like dogs and buried so they
can not be found. All those killed without a trial
or without a grave as it had to be
from the Tsarevich to a hired hand –
have been looking at us for a long time from afar.

We learned – it had to be so –
for the swift prevailing over darkness. –
It had to be that way. Let what will have to be needed
be understood by whoever wants it.

You, my youth, farewell. A vampire has been
sucking your blood and has sucked it all out. You, conscience,
can hardly be cured even by a miracle –
well, I can say, rather, that if it hurts somewhere,
it is not here. What you can’t keep,
you don’t cry about. You, native language,
one in his coffin is more beautiful
than you are now. Let’s mourn those who gave up
their fate – and got their due.
Those
who didn’t forfeit but entered a common mire
with the demure feeling of repulsion,
telling jokes on the sly. Those
who drank themselves to death. And those who didn’t drink too much,
but who stole cotton and by doing so increased
the nation’s wealth. And those who didn’t live to see our times,
but most of all those who have lived too long.

5.

We are the ones who know well: power is as empty as a barrel
with a hole in it. No matter what you pour into it,
or simply put, stuff into it – you can’t make it
even an inch fuller. You may put half of the country in a sack
or in water, you may put suckling infants to a lathe
or ride half the planet on a tank –
but you won’t find peace. Power doesn’t even dream of peace.
It dreams of what it can have at hand,
what must be. Otherwise, who rules here?
One who can place himself in the middle of the land
can wish that no more land be left
than what is beneath his feet.
Power moves, an airy twisted pillar,
from the walls of the frozen Kremlin
into the silence of the provinces beyond the grave,
to the borderlands that have died on alert,
and further to a mujahedin platoon –
and backward like a wave repelled.

6.

O, what a mousetrap. O, country –
what a mousetrap. O, Hamlet, Hamlet,
from generation to generation, to an heir like a bequest,
fate is like a signet ring, and you are like a stone in that ringlet,
while the poison-laden play is being acted out,
you, captive spirit, becoming exhausted in it,
look here: here, it seems, it is even eerier.

Here, it seems, Elsinor is just a parable,
and we have come to watch the hundredth
interpretation. From recent times,
enduring to me is vile beyond measure

and nauseating beyond measure too.
The wretch creeps from all sides and, rustling its rug,
taps out in a tiny, strategic dotted line
into the cosmos: tuba… mirum…

The friends of my learned youth,
dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstem,
I know that you are expeditious fellows,
you’ll say what I don’t know.
It must be this way:
to find an attic for yourself
and to remember that it’s not for the first time,
it used to be much worse. The cosmic spasms
don’t befit a private person.
My prince, who thinks of this,
will have his arrogance ruin his liver
and torment his brain. But one who knows humility
lives without coercing changes,
and works and reaps the fruit
of his labor. The Empire will fall,
will it be an executioner who will soar up –
a cat will finish drinking its milk,
an ant will finish building the carcass of its hut.
The world, as it was, is held by us.
And the salt of the earth, which you seek
quarrelling with the world, is the same Tuba, mirum…
“Yes, Rosencrantz, there is the same tuba, mirum,
there is the same Ghost, insulted by the world,
and there is the same world.”

7.

Farewell, they will forget you – and sooner
than us, the wretched ones: the future government
swallows the preceding one, choking on
portraits, aphorisms, medals…
Sic transit gloria. The rest is silence,
as it was said.
You’re no longer a buffoon,
a scarecrow, or a Mesmer mannequin,
you are a spirit now and, as a spirit, you look at everything.
In the terrifying, restored greatness
and in the ocean of silent, mighty forces,
pray now for your people, ruler…

8.

It seems to me at times that I am standing
by an ocean.
“Poor conjurer,
did you call for us? then look
at what will happen now ...”
“Keep away, it’s not me, not me!
Spare me. Let someone else.
I don’t want to know with what anguish
the unparalleled sea is agitated.
“Below” here means “in front of me.”
I hate the feeling of impending grief!”

If only I could take everything and with it paint everything
or with a pine tree, after I’ve dipped it in Vesuvius,
along the heavens, as someone used to say,
to write, to write a single word,
to write, sobbing, the word: HELP!
in huge letters for the angels to look at,
so it can be seen by martyrs
killed with our consent;
so that the Lord can understand that nothing
will remain in the hateful heart,
in the empty mind, on the barren earth –
we can do nothing. Help!

Slava I. Yastremski and Michel Naydan

1 Where can we sail… – a quote from Alexander Puskin’s poem, "Autumn" (1830).

Fifth Stanzas. De arte poetica
 The Elegy That Becomes a Requiem
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