Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday Poetry: Osip Mandelstam

A post in which she keeps her word, but not in exactly the way she intended.

Anyway, here's a poem.

Osip Mandelstam
Whoever Finds a Horseshoe

We see a forest and say:
There's a sea-going wood,
rose-colored pines free of
shaggy burdens right to their tops—they ought to
be creaking in a storm, their
lonely umbrella tips
in a white rage of treeless air. But fitted
square to the deck, they'd stand the salt wind's heel.

And sailors
Unconquerably hungry for space,
dragging delicate chronometers over damp ruts,
measure the earth's pull against
the seas' rough face.

And breathing the fragrance
of resinous tears, oozing from a ship's planks,
feasting our eyes on riveted
boards shaped into bulkheads,
not by the Bethlehem carpenter, but the other one
(Father of voyages, and the sailor's friend),
we say:
They stood on the uncomfortable ground
too, as on a donkey's spine,
their tips forgetting their roots,
stood on famous mountains,
rustled under sweet rainwater,
forever offering heaven, which never accepts,
their noble load for a pinch of salt.

How to begin, with what?
Everything chirps and rocks.
The air quivers with comparisons.
No word is better than another word,
the earth honks with metaphor,
and light carts
of bright bird flocks, straining, thick,
break apart,
like snorting circus horses.

Whoever sets names in a song is triple-blessed;
songs decorated with names
live the longest—
marked off by a headband
that cures frenzy, a stupefying scent,
strong, too strong, perhaps a man's presence,
perhaps some powerful animal's fur,
or only the breath of mint, rubbed between palms.
The air can be dark like water, and everything swims like fish,
pushing fins against the dense, resilient sphere,
faintly heated, shaking the crystal
where wheels and horses spin,
and the damp black soil of Neyera, plowed every night
with pitchforks, tridents, hoes, and plows.
Air kneaded thick as earth—
you can't leave it, and it's hard to get in.
A rustle runs through the trees, like a child's ball;
children play knucklebones with dead animals' spines.
Our time's brittle chronology runs out.
Thank you for what we have had:
I was wrong, I lost the way, my count went bad.
Our time rang like a golden globe, cast
hollow, held by no one,
and answering, to any touch, "Yes," and "No."
The way a child answers:
"I'll give you the apple," or "I won't give you the apple."
And as he speaks his face perfectly mirrors his voice.

The sound's still ringing, though what made it has gone.
A horse in the dust, snorting a lather,
but the steep bend of his neck
remembers running with legs flung out—
not just four of them,
but as many as the stones in the road,
all renewed in four shifts
in proportion as hot hooves pushed off the ground.

whoever finds a horseshoe
blows off the dust
and rubs it with wool, and it shines,
and then
he hangs it over his door
to rest,
never again to strike sparks out of flint.

Human lips with nothing left to say
keep the shape of the last word spoken,
and arms keep the feeling of weight
though the jug splashed half empty, carrying it home.

What I'm saying, now, is not being said by me,
it's dug from the ground, like grains of petrified wheat.

coins show lions,
show a head;
flat cakes of copper, gold, bronze,
lie in the ground, all equal.
Their time tried to bite them through, here are the teeth-marks.

Time cuts me down like a clipped coin
and I'm no longer sufficient unto myself.

Tr. Burton Raffel & Alla Burago


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