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On The Bank

Arseny Tarkovsky, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler

He was sitting by the river, among reeds
that peasants had been scything for their thatch.
And it was quiet there, and in his soul
it was quieter and stiller still.
He kicked off his boots and put
his feet into the water, and the water
began talking to him, not knowing
he didn’t know its language.
He had thought that water is deaf-mute,
that the home of sleepy fish is without words,
that blue dragonflies hover over the water
and catch mosquitoes or horseflies,
that you wash if you want to wash, and drink
if you want to drink, and that’s all there is
to water. But in all truth
the water’s language was a wonder,
a story of some kind about some thing,
some unchanging thing that seemed
like starlight, like the swift flash of mica,
like a divination of disaster.
And in it was something from childhood,
from not being used to counting life in years,
from what is nameless
and comes at night before you dream,
from the terrible, vegetable
sense of self
of your first season.

That’s how the water was that day,
and its speech was without rhyme or reason.

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