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19 September 2018

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There's No Peace on Earth or in Heaven

Author: Maxim Amelin
Translation: Derek Mong and Anne O. Fisher

Spring 2012
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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