Alexei Makushinsky

writer, poet, essayist

 

Julia Istomina. The Emergence of Russian Subjectivity 

A Critical Introduction to the New Poems of Alexei Makushinsky (2008)

Reprinted from:

 

SALT Magazine
edited by John Kinsella
Issue 1, 2008

 

Julia Istomina

Born in Moscow in 1983, Julia Istomina moved to the United States right before the fall of Communism (1990) because of a rare study-abroad opportunity presented to her father.

Istomina began writing poetry at 12 years old, and was further encouraged in the ninth grade by an ex-con English professor. She studied contemporary and Australian poetry with John Kinsella at Kenyon College, where she first became aware of the political insinuations of utilizing particular forms and words in writing. She is on the verge of completing a Poetry MFA at the New School. Her poetry and translations have appeared in Stand Magazine (UK), Big Bridge , the Bathyspheric Review, DMQ Review, Plum Ruby Review, Shampoo Poetry,Pudding Magazine, Los international Journal of Poesy and Art, Cortland Review and Salt Magazine.

Julia Istominas updated profile can be found on her website: https://juliaistomina.wordpress.com

 

 The Emergence of Russian Subjectivity: A Critical Introduction to the New Poems of Alexei Makushinsky

 I first found Alexei Makushinsky through the Russian-American New York online magazine Interpoezia.  I read his poem “Train into Frankfurt” and was immediately surprised at how much it didn’t sound like the typical modern Russian poetry that any reader might find in poetry anthologies.  It had a contemporary tone, had a relaxed, easy-to-understand conversational style and word choice —it could almost have appeared in any number of today’s American literary magazines. I had always assumed Russian poetry sounded in certain ways intrinsically different from American poetry, since they come from entirely different cultures.  But this poem seemed to prove me wrong with its questioning of the framing voice; the displacement, or at least the questioning of the assertion of the lyrical “I”; and the transcendental yearning to question both time and place as they attach to, and detach from, the fictive nature of the individual “self” — concerns of many Language poets working in America.

 For many readers, early 20th-century poets like Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva and Boris Pasternak still represent the “newest” and Russian poetry, as evidenced by the newly released Paul Schmidt anthology, The Stray Dog Cabaret.   Although recent writers like Prigov and Dragomoshchenko have certainly made space for themselves in contemporary poetry, these earlier poets nonetheless hold sway, even upwards of fifty years after their deaths. In fact, the aspect of a contemporary “real time” that I found in the poem even differentiated Makushinsky from Dragomoshchenko’s exhibition of Avant-Gardism and experimentation.   I began to wonder, how representative is “Train into Frankurt” of today’s Russian poetry, given the political and social changes that are expanding not only the country’s ideologies, but the interests of smaller groups and “schools.” 

 A booming amalgamation of poetic and critical sources exists in one large online index, known as “Zhurnalniy Zal” (“Magazine Hall”). It contains prestigious and long-standing literary magazines like Arion, Star, New World, which have been kind (or diligent) enough to post most, if not all, of their publications online.  Of course, you must know Russian to read them.  Before Makushinsky sent me his manuscript, The Light behind the Trees, I was able to obtain up to 10 of his poems for my translation project from this site.  What drew me to the texts was the ways in which Makushinsky differentiates himself from other voices. As a child I was required to memorize and recite Pushkin and other “idols” of the state. Many current writers still follow strict patterns of rhyme and meter.  This is less interesting to me as a translator because I prefer to put meaning first and form second (at least as of now), so as not to sacrifice the “sense” in an attempt to replicate its structure.  

 Perhaps the most crucial theme that is reveals itself in Makushinsky’s poems is the concept of “Home” and “Away.”  This issue is not only relevant to Russians, as seen in the organization of one of the events in the upcoming PEN Festival, “Town Hall Readings: Writing Home,” whose description reads:

 Writers explore what binds us to home and what holds us apart from it, and why home, or the idea of it, is or isn’t worth dying and killing for. How do we find home, and, when we lose it, how do we make a new one? Why do we leave home and why do we long to return? We’ll visit the domestic, the exiled, the global, and the imagined in search of a place we can call our own (PEN, online).

 The concept of the poet’s perception of “Home” and “Away” is especially interesting in the context of the Russian landscape. When nationalism is the ruling force of the poetic voice —in this case, the pressure to adhere to a particular “Soviet” style —what happens to that voice when the oppressive regime is dismantled?

Makushinsky was born in Moscow in 1960 and emigrated to Germany in 1992, where he currently teaches at Eichstätt-Ingolstadt University.  Even though he doesn’t reside in Moscow currently, he publishes his work enthusiastically in popular Russian literary magazines, and only publishes his philosophy and some works in German under the last name of his father (A.N. Rybakov), “Alexei Rybakov.” We may therefore consider him to be straddling both worlds, something that a lot of writers do today.  His poetry shows a questioning of landscape that contends with the definition of “border” in a larger sense —what we attach ourselves to, what binds us, and perhaps even makes us accountable for its history.

 In this way he creates the figure of a perpetual wanderer. His poem “Nowhere, from Nowhere,” for example, might suggest his perspective on both of his residences.  Similarly, the destabilization of the lyrical self, and the negation of the assertion of power that this traditional figure represents, coincides with the Language poets and  Makushinsky’s predecessor, Dragomoshchenko, who incidentally has had a fruitful poetic relationship with Lyn Hejinian, a major figure among American Language writers.  Makushinsky has published one fiction book, Max.  His first book of poems, from which I chose pieces to translate, was released by Aleteia in April, 2007.  His poems represent one of many voices in contemporary Russian poetry that, since the fall of the Soviet Union, are expanding in scope and range.

 The poems in Alexei Makushinsky’s The Light behind the Trees may resemble a Robinson Crusoe speculation at a newly erected, or in the narrator’s case, deconstructed world that is still professing borders within borders and historical allusions within a landscape that can be surveyed and walked.  However, the poem “Cities, through which we drove that summer” displays the conception that just as anything must be perceived as real, the “veil of Maya” must also be considered: “Nothing, in general, exists, only this / rocking, these patches of light” literally reflects the vision back onto the viewer, creating a sophisticated blindness in that he doesn’t mind the glare.

 Just as traditionally light has been a source of enlightenment, safety, and power, in this context the light overpowers any real image in its refractory nature, and so the viewer can only guess what he gathers. At this point, the viewer begins to implant various self-perceptions of ideas within a landscape, in effect simultaneously denying his position in the world and attempting to solidify his existence.  The poem ends, “And somewhere, on some outskirt, / Sun, dust, corpse smell, / Endless, low, red / Wall of a slaughter-house.”  The use of “somewhere” and “some” to ‘circle’ the periphery implies the idea of a position rather than a physical location, but to the viewer, perhaps out of a Historicist remnant of a state of mind, it is enough to be certain that the idea of it exists, the slaughter-house, distant enough from harm’s way, but close enough to add a chill.

 The speaker’s position is reflected upon himself in a mirroring effect, and it is this that develops as a trope throughout the manuscript, the idea that because the landscape, the periphery, the city’s vision can only be glanced through sand, light, a mirror, further exhibited by the speaker’s own positioning in the poem with the starting lines, “Walking away, he looks at the already foreign objects,” where he states, “He is the hero in his own novel / (film?)” — while at the same time we are discouraged from relying on this figure too much because while first, he is apparently an actor, a fraud, and shifting figure, also implicated is the speaker himself, who is either characterizing his own existential walkabout or focusing on an illusory figure that has no real “nature.”  Thus the mirror breaks into even smaller shards of questioned perception of “self” and perspective.

 The element of historicity, the involvement with the issues of the past while experiencing the present, is at an all-together different level in these poems — there is no desperation to know how everything happened —there is no immediate dire need to fix things, make them new or do away with them altogether.  The viewer is a partial observer in that he is aware of the shadows of events and lives that have crossed paths at the very intersections he finds himself, but there is a sophisticated understanding that very little can be changed in the direction of causes and effects. However, the narrator in Makushinsky’s poems can’t stop himself even syntactically from continuously building and expounding on the things he sees: the inherent curiosity is there.

 For example, the second part of “Two Variations on the Themes of Philip Larkin” begins with an epigraph from Larkin: “Never such innocence again.”  Here the viewer admits, “You think, how could this happen; you see fields and faces / Untouched by the trenches, the continuation / Of discontinued lives; you think if … if … this or this would have happened —  as if the shadows of saving chances walk by, confused.“ In the unraveling of this scene the viewer imagines the parades that worshipped soldiers, showering them with flowers, and yet how little all of this in reality connects to the viewer in his current stances: “You think what’s all this to you?  In reality you yourself don’t / know … And to the bayonet of the 1 you measure a 7, and / walk out into the street, where has stayed that, which was able / to remain from the past.  So little.”  The feeling invoked is that of removal, yet it isn’t cold.  The fact that the slaughter-house is still out there, somewhere, in the hills, churning its “products,” familiarizes us with the fact that all of these shadows, these remnants of soldiers smiling and dying, are all around us, past, present, and future.  In this light our simultaneously rational and irrational traveler is a testament to the wandering eye that seeks removal from time to time, but can’t stray far from his history.

A focus on architecture imbues the manuscript with yet another level or sense of simultaneous construction and deconstruction of the idea and the viewer; the mention of monuments, cities, turrets, cobblestones and fountains, all are depicted as deserted, if only in the sense that they have surpassed their momentous nature and have been living like immortal, thus outdated, signifiers of a very particular history.  But the viewer somehow is hooked to these testaments. For example, “The Fountain” illustrates what is confusion between reality and representation in that the viewer begins the poem by describing “Large-headed children, frozen at the water” but continuing the next stanza with “They play (or make the appearance of playing) / with a frog, a little stone, a little fish.”  The possibility of choosing what they might be playing with at first suggests their fast and impervious movements in the fountain as they play — then the viewer announces: “They’re made of stone.”

The narrator falls back on his own childhood experiences that are exemplified by this statue: 

 

I used to catch small fish in the pond, catch tadpoles,

catch frogs (what for?). Smell of smoke

mixed with the smell of dusk,

 

lawn and mire.  Nothing changes. The seventh

sits inside of me, just as 

immobile, as these six.

 

 In this cast of perception the statue becomes a mausoleum or a tomb, ‘embodying’ the positions of youth and innocence, which are necessarily lost.  The statement that nothing changes is common enough but when coupled with the idea that a seventh frozen, dead child sits inside the viewer, both permanent and useless as these embodiments of childlike wonder, it creates an unease not as easily shed as the predilection of catching slimy amphibians.  Even trees are immobilized in the poem that begins with: “Always very straight — even if / bent by the wind — stand / the trees.”

Conversely, there is a marked distinction between this poem and the aforementioned “The Fountain,” in that the speaker differentiates himself from the structures of the trees: “As straight, as we / want, as we very rarely / stand in front of them, in front / of that, which is behind them, around them, / around us.“ The inability of permanence also has a negative effect, however, in this poem; it allows emotional instability.  The poem’s final stanza reveals: 

And just as

straight, even if bent by the wind, 

 

stand the trees. As straight, as I can't 

stand, in front of this

enormous emptiness, without you.

 

 I’d argue that pain is good here.  It is the human, transient nature of emoting that has saved this viewer from being an entirely passive, “stone” traveler on no road — there is an urgency to be consistently moving, if not to change the landscape and to erase periphery, but to document his own thoughts and reactions to objects (and ideas) that will soon be forgotten. 

In fact, in “Let’s Talk about Bicycles” the speaker finds himself on a rusted two-wheeler and learns live in the momentum: “… riding away through the clear / evening, over the sky, that sparkles on the wet / asphalt, finding the balance — or / suddenly being found by it. ” Similarly, in the poem “And always the wish to drive off to the very borderless border,” although the viewer might see himself as a made example of the past, and thus fixed: “he, who / in the beginning of life believed so much in fate, in the movement / of sense in time, has himself stayed in that time”, he still has “only the wish to drive off / to the very borderless border, where there is plenty of light, to see / these walls made from smooth stones, this sea, shining behind them.”  There is so much life and light in this distinction, the cinematic notion of leaving it all behind, if only to come face to face, again and again, with the past and its monuments.  In fact it is the remnant of the wish “to see” that implies a more humanistic, and even spiritual, salvation.

Aside from the distinction of the blurring of “self” versus periphery and the mirroring of a conceptual light and image (rather than the static, authoritative presence of self), Makushinsky uses several epigraphs by and alludes to poets and philosophers that unveil the author’s kinship with the poetic conception of this “self” in the world.  Key figures include R.M. Rilke, Philip Larkin (“here is unfenced existence: / Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach”), Elizabeth Bishop (“The art of losing isn’t hard to master”), Mark Strand (“…how to explain / Our happiness then, the particular way our voices / Erased all signs of sorrow that had been, / Its violence, its terrible omens of the end?”), and Wallace Stevens (“The bed, the books, the chair, the moving nuns…”).  Because Makushinsky’s poems have a specific slant or focus, it is easy to perceive why he chooses the particular lines of these poets in the context of each of his pieces, rather than choosing them merely for the sake of the popular name: this is the most outward “facing the sun” that the he completes — looking toward the West and relying on the words of influential writers so as to say it right.

A name not alluded to in the manuscript that crossed my mind as I was reading and translating Makushinsky’s work was John Ashbery. David Perkins wrote on John Ashbery that he “dwells on the impossibility of credibly imagining any reality.”  Furthermore, the cyclical patterns of digression and impression that are characteristics of Ashbery’s work trigger the assumption that he is all the more concerned within his environment that there is no credibility of a certain reality.  I believe the same of Makushinsky.  One of my favorite poems, “Train into Frankfurt,” embodies the distancing of perception from objective reality and the continuous flux in security versus insecurity when the speaker looks at the world:

 

Train into Frankfurt

 

Everything is so sad, said Prince Genji, even

these transparent leaves, this white, rose

scattering of branches. Because spring tells me

about autumn, about the flow of time, because

blossoms will fall and leaves will wilt. But the monk thought

about that which lies behind words

he might have spoken in reassurance,

he did not speak in reassurance, about that which -

behind all words and thoughts, leaves and branches -

lies or, perhaps, he thought, moves,

like us, coming nearer, slipping, swimming through

the landscape, flung open by the light, where the chains

of trees climb the slopes, a buoyant

cloud takes off above the bell tower, and hills 

disappear in a glittering fog.  Cars

didn’t get up with the train, in the window across

the corridor - where they drived out suitcases

on little wheels, carried out bags - there was 

the city, great towers on a sunlight horizon.

 

 

Even the points of reference are unreliable. The reliance on the “information” of spring signifies that the speaker is grappling with more than “transparent leaves” — the conception of knowledge and permanence. The fluctuating assurance in the monk’s perceptions is connected to the larger themes of natural mortality, which opens the likeable/permanent landscape.  The familiar appearance of architecture in the depiction of turrets and a city ironically further impermanence, in that cities and turrets are everywhere, much like trains and bags — we are consistently moving through space and time tethered only by ideas of gravity, and nothing holds us back from death.  It is this borderline obsession of attaching oneself, and simultaneously detaching oneself, from a landscape and tangibility of space and time that permits a comparison between Ashbery and the Russian poet.

Although the state of impermanence both in the sense of the lyrical “self” and the present are a strong trope in the manuscript, it must be said that the poems themselves beautifully identify the smaller scales that make life worth living, and even death worth dying.  The tiny moments of pleasure are undeniably there as the viewer weighs history with future.  For example, in the poem “I still haven’t lived until that age,” the speaker unveils an emptiness of the city and likens this weight with Saint Christopher’s burden while discussing his identification with his father.  However, while the poem begins to wrap up with “And just so shadows / Lay on those paths, like in this park,” the speaker magnanimously, and positively, ends with the tidbit: “Where we drink coffee, prior to driving back.”  The positive aspect can be viewed in the present tense of “drink,” and the idea of taking time to do such a small, but often pleasurable activity, before departing this city of “Sunday emptiness.”

A hopeful gleam can be parsed from the poem “St. Luca Draws the Madonna” as well, where the speaker imagines the other moment of inception, that of a magnificent work of art.  Along with the uncertainty of this moment: “Not because I know how.  I don’t know,” comes the implication that art is a natural phenomenon that falls only slightly short of a miracle: “His quiet hand with pencil over paper, / Already he has tiredness under his eyes. / These lines lead me even further. She is silent / Always and ever.  Trains go, planes / And angels fly the sky.  This is why.”  The speaker also seems relieved to be living in a time and place that demands little of what dire historical events might have demanded of him otherwise; “A Different Beginning,” begins: 

“What happiness to die in Paris / in the hospital, in poverty, in suffering…death / is death.  But even so: what, / must be happiness it is to die in Paris, / in the hospital, not in a barrack, on a mattress, / not on shards of plywood.”

Ironically, and almost certainly, just as the manuscript begins with the consideration of death, it ends with the title poem “The Light behind the Trees,” a long poem whose repetition resembles the circular, and so obsessive, elements of a sestina.  It ruminates on the process of dying in comfort, such as what objects and memories might seep in and even potentially harangue the speaker in their consistent cycling throughout all other thoughts.  The poem is bittersweet, in the sweetest sense of the word; instead of an overall sadness with the inevitable departing, there lies the conviction that “there was happiness, it really was had, there was so much / happiness, like sugar in tea, come on now, / so much sugar, as if it’s possible to have so much,” and even though “everything quiets, all is silent, like soap, stills, winds, not important, but visible / from afar still, farther and farther, / the city, to which your entire life you so wanted to visit,”  there is still, now and forever, the delightful and yet threatening illusions in the ending lines of the poem: “and the light, the light, and of course the light behind the trees.”  The light is both illuminating and a threat in that it is the last thing that we see before death, and it also eclipses our knowledge of the elements around us (blinding light).  We return to, just as we were born into, the conception of light as both the illusionist and the mystic, the unreal veiling in Schopenhauer’s dreams, the last “reality” we see when we close our eyes at the dawning of night.

 

 

Translations

 

A Different Beginning

 

“What happiness to die in Paris,

in the hospital, in poverty, in suffering… death

is death.  But even so: what

must be happiness it is to die in Paris,

in the hospital, not in a barrack, on a mattress,

 

not on shards of plywood.”  I’m looking at these huge

clouds, swimming above the world,

these squares, scattered by cobblestones,

these statues on the bridge.  I live here.

Here, in Europe, in an epilogue to the past.

 

Their shadows still walk through the blue morning,

the rumble of their walks lingers under these arches,

the road metal still whispers about them in these parks,

the flowing of rivers continues their lines.

And angels fly away through wires,

 

the cream of Biscay waves beats into the waffle shore,

oaks and ashes noise of emigrants and the driven-off.

I owe all to them; I wouldn’t exist, if not for them.

Nobody chased me, I myself chose this

movement in time, nearing to the nonexistent.

 

Because everything, never ending, ended.

And you see clearly, looking at the clouds and the squares,

how all the cathedrals of Europe, all the town halls,

all the columns join, very slowly, to the harbor,

preparing for the drift-off, beginning another history.

 

20 October 2003

 

 

 

“Cities, through which we drove that summer”

 

Cities, through which we drove that summer,

circled by you on a map,

Dieppe, Honfluer, Calais, his burghers,

walking across the square.

 

And resembling the square — harbors,

harbors, rocking of boats,

fruits of the sea, laid out in the window,

masts leaning one to another.

 

“Nothing, in general, exists, only this

rocking, these patches of light — 

toutes ces choses pensent par moi, ou je pense par elles  —

the largeness of air, clouds”.

 

And somewhere, on some outskirt,

sun, dust, corpse smell,

endless, low, red

wall of a slaughterhouse.

 

7 July 2003

 

 

 

„ And it‘s not surprising, that I myself“

 

And it‘s not surprising, that I myself,

who sometime placed large nails on rails,

so the wheels of the suburban train 

 

departing from the station flatten them 

into the likeness of a knife, - that I sit and write now 

all this, calling myself me, like I called

 

myself on that summery, not hot, long day

with clouds over the embankment when I  

in dry and gray grass, among

 

stones, bags, tears of newspapers, searched

but didn’t find the nail that

flew away flashing and jingling against 

 

something metal, - and it’s not surprising even 

that it lies still, perhaps, somewhere in the grass, 

under the scatter and clouds, - but something

 

entirely different is surprising, of course,

by which I already then was surprised,

raising my head, listening

 

to the from-afar growing noise of another train.

 

6 Juli 2003

 

 

 

“I still haven’t reached”

 

I still haven’t reached 

the age my father was

when I was born.  Right here we’ll turn left,

drive on the motorway.

 

Everything begins anew, every day,

begins anew.  We’ve driven

far.  The city, burnt by the sun.

Clock on tower.  Sunday emptiness.

 

How this all wants to be spoken, these streets,

barely breathing from heat, this square

with her written-out facades (on one of 

which — Saint Christopher,

 

carrying his burden on the shoulders), the river

with her mad spots of light…My father

also began very late.  His life also

split into two parts.

 

Beginning the second part, you recall

the beginning of the first.  And just so shadows

lay on those paths, like in this park,

where we drink coffee, prior to driving back.

 

 

 

St. Luca Draws the Madonna

 

Not because I know how.  I don’t know.

Not because I believe that I could.  I don’t believe.

But because there’s nothing yet to have, not Her, 

not the child, not even this room with a canopy, with columns,

and exiting into the balcony, no balcony, no them, who

stand there, no river, no hills, no towers, no me

myself.  All this wants to exist, I want to exist.  She

is looking to the side, with a lunar smile.

 

Not because I know.  I don’t know.  Not because

I believe.  I don’t believe.  But because everything begins

again — everything appears, these hills and columns.  I myself 

appear.  All this moves.  Stars walk

somewhere above us, and underground

waters flow in dark.  All this wants to exist. 

And that is why we begin again, each

time. She is looking to the side, smiling.

 

Everything moves, only She is immovable.

 

Not because it’s me. Doesn’t matter who. I see

this branching of the river, these folds of clothes, their fall

and weight, squares of the floor and rhombuses in them,

his quiet hand with pencil over paper,

already he has tiredness under his eyes.

These lines lead me even further. She is silent

always and ever. Trains go, planes

and angels fly the sky. This is why.

 

 

“Walking away, he looks at the already foreign objects”

 

Walking away, he looks at the already foreign objects,

the door in glass squares, the portiere hung on copper rings,

the narrow mirror.  He is the hero of his own novel

(film?), with a bag over a shoulder walking to the station.

 

The future sounds in him, eclipsing other sounds, 

and accidental thoughts form a pattern, sensible and miraculous.

Everything comes together, right now everything will come together:

the smoky road in the window, the tea in the glass-holder,

 

somebody’s past glance, and that old guy, sitting across.

He doesn’t yet have the word ‘age’ in his lexicon. Still,

shadows are already lying behind him otherwise. A not-imagined 

future is already beginning in him — like the city, beginning at dawn.

 

 

 

Nowhere, From Nowhere

 

It’s too cold to say that  

spring has arrived.  Simply it’s the time of lilac.  A commotion

of lilac under the tousled sky.  Shaggy

clouds like yard dogs, their soundless

fight over us. Breach, broil, you walk,

repeating.  To yourself, just because.  Everything really

is just because — about nothing.  Simply it’s the time

of lilac.  Simply time walks away, without looking,

under a tousled sky, nowhere, from nowhere.

 

 

Two Variations On the Themes of Philip Larkin  [2nd Variation]

1914–2004

 

Never such innocence again.

Philip Larkin: MCMXIV

 

Checking the dates, you think in ten 

years already a hundred, and to the black large four

introduce once again a strict ‘1’;

you think, how could this happen; you see fields and faces,

untouched by the trenches, the continuation

of discontinued lives; you think if … if

 

this and this would have happened — as if the shadows

of saving chances walk by, confused, in front 

of you, parting hands — everything could have turned

otherwise … You see hats, flying up in giddiness,

dark crowds, believing, that they believe

in something, what already wasn’t there, that they 

 

themselves were burying in sun-washed streets,

yelling “With victory return!” showering with  flowers 

happy soldiers, of whom no one survived;

and gray ranks of parades, the last epaulettes,

aiguillettes, plumes; running away from history

forever, under the clatter of dotted film tapes,

 

monarchs; the mincing suite; sisters of mercy in white 

kerchiefs with crosses, with faces from another

epoch.  You think, what’s all this to me? In reality you yourself don’t

know.  To the bayonet of the ‘1’ you measure a ‘7’, and

walk out into the street, where what was able to remain

from the past has stayed.  So little.

 

 

The Fountain

 

Large-headed children, frozen at the water.

In the square, always empty, gigantic

and half-circular (cobblestone, caryatids).

 

They play (or make the appearance of playing)

with a frog, a little shall, a little fish.

There’s six of them. They’re made of stone.

 

Only one of them, snatched by a crayfish,

looks at the sky, to the sky

raising a plump hand.

 

The rest look you straight in the face.

You circle them clockwise or counter-

clockwise.  Circle them once more.

 

They look at you from under 

their sharply bulging foreheads, spots of moss.

They look without tearing away.  They don’t see.

 

The water behind them, falling, sputters. Sunspots

run over you and over them.

They sit unmoving.

 

I used to catch small fish in the pond, catch tadpoles,

catch frogs (what for?).  Smell of smoke

mixed with the smell of dusk,

 

lawn and mire.  Nothing changes. The seventh

sits inside of me, just as 

immobile, as these six.

 

 

 

 

“Let’s talk about bicycles. That first one”

 

Let’s talk about bicycles. That first one, 

with the fat orange tires,

on which you suddenly took off, not believing,

 

that you’re riding, able to look back, seeing

them all, as they stay back, the fling-up

of their arms, riding away through the clear

 

evening, over the sky, that sparkles on the wet

asphalt, finding the balance — or

suddenly being found by it. The same balance, perhaps,

 

which you find, that finds you,

when lines (like these) stand up,

holding on and moving simultaneously.

 

22 June 2004

 

 

“And always the wish to drive off to the very borderless border”

 

And always the wish to drive off to the very borderless border

of the world‘s light, to Ireland, to the devil, to the sea,

to see the runaway swamps of the stone Connemara,

the ginger mountain slopes under a thousand-headed sky.

 

This is a place with a stranger’s fate, indiferent to the one with whom

you arrive here, the one sitting next to you 

in the car that you rented in Galway; allthough he, who 

in the beginning of life believed so much in fate, in the movement

 

of sense in time, has himself stayed in that time.

From himself is left, maybe, only the wish to drive off

to the very borderless border, where there is plenty of light, to see

these walls made from smooth stones, this sea, shining behind them.

 

7 July 2004

 

 

 

“Always very straight — even if”

 

Always very straight — even if

bent by the wind — stand

the trees. As straight, as we

want, as we very rarely

 

stand in front of them, in front

of that, which is behind them, around them, 

around us.  You know, there's nothing new

here, without you. Autumn

 

is already ending, already only the white

little balls on black branches, but no snow

yet. Everything is open 

wide. And just as

 

straight, even if bent by the wind, 

stand the trees. As straight, as I can't 

stand, in front of this

enormous emptiness, without you.

 

9 December 2003

 

 

Train into Frankfurt

 

Everything is so sad, said Prince Genji, even

these transparent leaves, this white, rose

scattering of branches. Because spring tells me

about autumn, about the flow of time, because

blossoms will fall and leaves will wilt. But the monk thought

about that which lies behind words

he might have spoken in reassurance,

he did not speak in reassurance, about that which -

behind all words and thoughts, leaves and branches -

lies or, perhaps, he thought, moves,

like us, coming nearer, slipping, swimming through

the landscape, flung open by the light, where the chains

of trees climb the slopes, a buoyant

cloud takes off above the bell tower, and hills 

disappear in a glittering fog.  Cars

didn’t get up with the train, in the window across

the corridor — where they drived out suitcases

on little wheels, carried out bags — there was 

the city, great towers on a sunlight horizon.


© Alexei Makushinsky, 2015, 2016
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