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Page 66 ( 2 pages)
If we beheld the soul as we see our own bodies, O how the heart within us would freeze, these eyes then would apprehend, through a dim gloom, the dead gathered on earth, which together we’d roam.
-from a church calendar, 1845 (quoting from memory)
“There’s no peace on earth or in heaven, and the dead disembark from their coffins, bedecked in fresh outfits identically fashioned, to squeeze out the living—our post-mortem’s unkind: chilly sometimes, so far as I know, or it’s stuffy, a touch scary, and crowds overflow
as they did for me once in Petersburg. Still, I am in the living’s enviable situation: in no mood to rush, and my turn’s not come up to buy a ticket—where to again? Rostov!—for a four-seat compartment. Among those newly departed many left
us incompletely, and still graze my face, with their calculating gaze that burns— but no warmth pervades them; we can’t pray for them. Since I was small I’ve recalled—from a church calendar of the previous era—four lines about corpses, wayfaring through nature
in spiritless crowds. I know them by heart. Flesh is arrayed in lush and luxurious robes. Love and gladness, sadness and hate— it won’t let these linger, not on your life, closed off without a word lost, each feeling ushered away. In all else we’re mirrored, word-for-word.”
At least two weeks on a single poem— with brief pauses, of course, to lie down, for a navy-blue Pierre Cardin, for that temptation (TV’s aquarium), for wine by Paul Masson, or mayonnaise over humble pelmeni, for Natasha and a Gilette razor with its lonely
blade—I’ve slaved. And see, here, for better or worse, is the result: flyspecked fruit that’s less than Muse-bedecked, its luster much reduced. But gifts I wheedle from God’s left hand are dearer by far than a token proffered, unasked, in the right hand of an Earthly lord.
(And with a smidgen won, a smidgen lapsed, I momentarily miss one simple thought— an epigraph is this epigraph’s preface, here parenthesized—no matter how sinister it reads, I write it, Lord have mercy (“Thou hast a name as if thou livest, but art dead”) upon me.)
by Maxim Amelin, from “Dubia” 1999
Translation by Derek Mong and Anne O. Fisher
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