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Two Poems by Joseph Brodsky

Translated from the Russian by the author

Lousy times: nothing to steal and no one to steal from.
The legions return empty-handed from their faraway expeditions.
A sybil confuses the past with the future as if she were a tree.
And actors whom nobody now applauds
forget the great lines. Forgetting, however, is the mother
of classics. Eventually these years
too will be seen as a slab of marble
with a network of capillaries (the aqueduct, the system
of taxation, the catacombs, the gossip),
with a tuft of grass bursting up from within its crack.
Whereas this was a time of poverty and of boredom,
when there was nothing to steal, still less to buy,
not to mention to offer somebody as a present.
The fault was not Caesar’s, more suffering than the rest
because of the absence of luxury. Nor should one blame the stars,
since the low overcast relieves the planets of responsibility
toward the settled terrain: an absence
cannot influence a presence. And here’s precisely where
a marble slab starts, because one-sidedness
is the enemy of perspective. Perhaps it’s simply
that things, more quickly than men, have lost
their desire to multiply. In this white captivity.

MCMXCV

The clowns are demolishing the circus. The elephants have run off to
India;tigers sell, on the sidewalk, their stripes and hoops;
under the leaky cupola, there is hanging, off the trapeze,
as in a wardrobe, the limp tuxedo
of a disillusioned magician;
and little horses, casting off their embroidered blankets, pose
for a portrait of the new engine. In the arena,
knee-deep in sawdust, clowns, wildly wielding
sledgehammers, demolish the circus.
The public is either absent or doesn’t clap.
Only a miniature shaggy poodle
still yelps incessantly, feeling she’s getting closer
to her sugar lump: feeling that any second
she’ll be hitting nineteen ninety-five.

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