In keeping with the interesting project we are producing with the poet and translator Katherine E. Young, here, we re-present a handful of poems which she allowed us to publish in Archipelago, Vol. 10, Nos. 3-4. They remain bright in our eyes and suffused with aching beauty. -Ed.
Red Vineyard, 1888: A Painting by Van Gogh
If I ever get back, the first thing I shall do is go and see
the French [paintings].
— Osip Mandelstam in exile
Vtoraya rechka (“Second Little Stream”) is the transit
camp where Mandelstam is believed to have perished.
I remember his vermilion, color
with the grandest name. It tasted of tree
trunks, a work blouse, tang of grapes harvesting
in the vineyards of Arles. He captured the sun
and hung it, toasted gold like blini
hot and hot from the stove, to wester there
beyond the fields. If I ever get back,
though the path may lie through the transit camps,
through Vtoraya rechka, misbegotten
little stream. . . . Pity, instead, the man who
surveyed this spot, doggedly reducing
the great East to a chart, chilly fingers
inscribing, there, “First Little Stream” and, there,
“Third Little Stream” — equally prosaic
names for the places they send men to die.
Understand this: there is no other road,
no roundabout crossing, no safer way.
There is Death, too, in that sunset— but not
yet. On the wet-black walk, chalk soil and rain
conspire to trace upon the pavement
the fragile antonym of a leaf.
. . . And I prepared to swim, and floated on the arc
Of unbeginning journeys.
— Osip Mandelstam, Voronezh, 1937
M would invite me to stroll in imagination with him
round the Baptistery in Florence. . . .
— Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope
A silence falls, sweeping the swells,
schooling the hollows and velvet
hills, the cypress stands, the empty
road to a place that is not — yet —
Canaro. Same old moon, same stars,
give or take a planet or two.
“Due ore!” wails a woman
who asked a man who had talked to
the conductor. Due ore —
as if all Eternity were
quicker or more certain than
the homebound train’s arrival at last.
All travel’s exile, the shedding
of self, a losing and finding,
the possessing of new things. Past
is present — in gondola rides
through fetid canals, light, water,
air shared with Campanile loons
proclaiming “Republic!” too late,
or too soon — in encounters with
selves left standing at the crossroads,
with ghosts asking after Dante
in accents unknown to the shades
who frequent the Baptistery….
Headlights at the crossing. No fear,
no regret, no yearning keener
than the one that blooms as the night
train passes, ripe moon throbbing through
the sheep-foul fields, the olive groves,
the Akrons of the soul, through Voronezh.