Monday, 16 May 2016

from Blackwater Quartet, selection 115

In Isika

Not always geographical, any place,
every place, perhaps I’m there right now.

The road climbing higher and higher,
I must have sat here a long time, my body covered by red mist.
In the distance St Sophia’s Cathedral,
its gold and blue domes, like the clematis flower called here
Pamiat Serdtsa, memory of the heart.

And perhaps it’s fitting I can’t remember the names of the days,
not all of them anyway.

Her breath is cool on my face, the hours running through.
She says, touch my mouth as I speak, now say,
what is the colour of the light, the stone
with copper running through, touching her mouth,
in this language
what her name means, remembering.

Her hair, sometimes worn braided –
when I touch her, I am aware
at her waist
the weapons harness embroidered with hawk feathers,
along the edge of the tunic, gold webbing
hung with delicate altar charms, the words
etched into them, Russian probably.

When I touch her, the least pressure on her skin
leaves a faint salt stain.
Is that me or her?

When I touch her, I am aware of the white leather
prayer book, and crudely stitched on the cover
the image of the Immortals,
the one indicating we have transcended time.

This wild, lovely woman
able to accomplish anything, one
of these Bohemians you read about in novels—
the weird beliefs about the derivation of all butterflies
and the Transcendentalist’s high answer.

There are natives and there are natives.
What have you been after, burying yourself here
to be chastised with gold?
Indeed, you may admire the beaded handicrafts,
but only upon reaching the inner gates will you know
where you stand, the small birds stiffening in the cold.
There are others, too,
many of whom were unknown to you, their low condition.
You could almost hear your own heart beating.

The cloudy oval dispelled illusions, the green stone
actually a very small map of a strange land.
The cleric declared that the ring was of this space
but an earlier time.

On the railway platform, a wrenching farewell,
then we were brought to the island, to a shack made of boarding.
Grass appeared only for two months in summer,
and in the winter we dug up to get out,
setting plates of ice in window holes.

At that place, the river was 60 kilometres wide,
with only crippled birches growing there.

Out on the steppes, a synth wash of house beats
and triggered samples, through ceremonies of dust
horse archers sacrificing to uncertain stars.

There are no helpful theories, no therapies,
no solutions.

Here and there, some sets still burned, one by one, television’s
painstaking replica of something that never was.
In one stroke, the dark image
burning itself into talk shows
suddenly disappeared, together with
the samovar service given for running bullion to Odessa,
and the ancient tombs found near Voronezh,
later denied.

Burial mounds 2400 years old—
five young Scythian women, their spears, quivers and bows,
energetic, converted, accompany, remember,
whispering, transported.

A year of arriving, then cold dachas another thousand days.
We go out one last time to the lake.
Taking off her clothes, she plunges naked into icy water,
then in a glade nearby, finding mushrooms never seen before,
their strange shapes, table, phallus, smokestack.

I call to her to take care, to come back.
Instead, kneeling among them,
she speaks to them these endearing diminutives, saying
which she will gather, to be threaded together to dry,
the poison ones left alone, remaining beautiful.

I ask in my bad Russian what this one is.
She says, for colours,
the way dreams walk straight into the morning, and rarer,
the way morning bleeds into shapes beside you.

After several minutes, I found myself
falling into true hallucination.
Oceans, barren lands, a bright blue sky.

I disguised my presence
in speciation, in dietary isotope evidence,
the changing paradigms
of hunter gatherer communities, in chiefdom and prehistory feasts.

This next part I may have imagined:
the homeland security barrier
spanning the road, signs and barbed wire,
the DNA detained in these emplacements.

Here and there, one by one,
the painstaking replica of something
that never was, the dark image through icy water.

On the overnight train.

I must have been here a long time, my body
coloured by mist, in this space
of icons of ice and dust.

The red letters marking the station sign are missing,
as though for a place that no longer exists,
the words translated as the distance
travelled between worlds.

Her breath is cool on my face. She says,
what have you been after, you
and these others unknown to you,
these hours at the inner gates, this native tongue.

I touch her mouth as she speaks.
I can no longer pronounce my own name.

On St John’s Eve, the girls weave
forget-me-not wreaths, exquisite with periwinkles and rosemary,
casting them downstream for future husbands to recover.

These lighted candle wishes
sail or sink, as goes love’s longing,
with bonfires set along the river’s edge, young men
laughing, jumping through fire with wreaths they fetched.

We play our violins and bass viols.
Our group always includes the finest reapers.

A loaf of bread, baked from fresh grain, is offered
the master of the house, who greets us, dancing
with the girl we all agreed
swung best
the blade’s wide curves.

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