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Verses on the Winter Campaign 1980

Joseph Brodsky, translated by Alan Myers
The noonday heat, a vale in Dagestan….”

—Michael Lermontov

I

A bullet’s velocity in low temperatures
greatly depends on its target’s virtues,
on its urge to warm up in the plaited muscles
of the torso, in the neck’s webbed sinews.
Stones lie flat like a second army.
The shade hugs the loam to itself willy-nilly.
The sky resembles peeling stucco.
An aircraft dissolves in it like a clothes-moth,
and as a spring from a ripped-up mattress
an explosion sprouts up. Outside the crater,
the blood, like skimmed milk, slow to seep into
the ground, is seized by a film’s hard ripples.

II

Shepherd and sower, the North is driving
herds to the sea, spreading cold to the South.
The bright frosty noon in a Wogistan valley.
A mechanical elephant, trunk wildly waving
at the horrid sight of the small black rodent
of the snow-covered mine, spews out throat-clogging
lumps, possessed of that old desire
of Muhammad, to move a mountain.
Summits loom white; the celestial warehouse
lends them at noontime its flaking surplus.
The mountains lack any motion, passing
their immobility to the scattered bodies.

III

The doleful, echoing Slavic singing
at evening in Asia. Dank and freezing
sprawling piles of human pig-meat
cover the caravanserai’s mud bottom.
The fuel-dung smoulders, legs stiffen in numbness.
It smells of old socks, of forgotten bathdays.
The dreams are identical as are the greatcoats.
Plenty of cartridges, few recollections
and a tang in the mouth of too many “hurrahs”!
Glory to those who, their glances lowered,
marched in the Sixties to the abortion tables
sparing the homeland its present stigma.

IV

What is contained in the drone’s dull buzzing?
And what in the sound of the aero-engine?
Living is getting as complicated
as building a house with the grapes’ green marbles
or little dwellings with spades and diamonds.
Nothing is stable (one puff and it’s over):
families, private thoughts, clay shanties.
Night over ruins of a mountain village.
Armor wetting its metal sheets with oil-slick,
freezes in thorn-scrub. Afraid of drowning
in a discarded jackboot, the moon
hides in a cloud as in Allah’s turban.

V

Idle, inhaled now by no one, air.
Imported, carelessly piled-up silence.
Rising like dough that’s leavened
emptiness. If the stars had life-forms,
space would erupt with a brisk ovation,
a gunner, blinking, runs to the footlights.
Murder’s a blatant way of dying,
a tautology, the art form of parrots,
a manual matter, the knack of catching
life’s fly in the hairs of the gunsight
by youngsters acquainted with blood through either
hearsay or violating virgins.

VI

Pull up the blanket, dig a hole in a pallias.
Flop down and give ear to the “oo” of the siren.
The ice age is coming—slavery’s ice age is coming
oozing over the atlas. Its moraines force under
nations, fond memories, muslin blouses.
Muttering, rolling our eyeballs upward,
we are becoming a new kind of bivalve,
our voice goes unheard, as though we were trilobites.
There’s a draft from the corridor, drafts from the square window.
Turn off the light, wrap up in a bundle.
The vertebra craves eternity. Unlike a ringlet.
In the morning the limbs are past all uncoiling.

VII

Up in the stratosphere, thought of by no one,
the little bitch barks as she peers through the porthole:
“Beachball! Beachball! Over. It’s Rover.”
The beachball’s below. With the equator on it.
Like a dog collar. Slopes, fields and gullies
in their whiteness resemble cheekbones
(the color of shame has all gone to the banners),
and the hens in their snowed-in hen coops
also, ashake from the shock of reveille,
lay their eggs of immaculate color.
If anything blackens, it’s just the letters
like the tracks of some rabbit, preserved by a wonder.

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