Mandelstam in Theodosia
Let me go; I wasn't made for jail.
(arrested in Theodosia in 1920
Mandelstam was not mistaken, he wasn't made
for jail, but jails were made
for him, countless camps and prisons
waited for him patiently, freight trains
and filthy barracks, railroad switches and
gloomy waiting rooms kept waiting
till he came, secret police in leather
jackets waited for him and party
hacks with ruddy faces.
"I will not see the famous Phaedra,"
he wrote. The Black Sea didn't shed
black tears, pebbles on the shore
tumbled submissively, as the wave desired,
clouds sailed swiftly across the inattentive earth.
July, the blackbirds have stopped singing.
I sit on a bench by the bank of a slow river,
I hear the hate-filled quarreling of lovers,
whom I don't know and never will.
Sweaty athletes run along the avenue.
The morning sun shines indifferently
on the calm dark water
that is apathy personified.
A little boy carries a plastic bag
bearing the garish logo Men's Health,
souls almost never meet,
bodies do battle cloaked in darkness.
A rain frail as haiku arrives in the night.
Light bells mumble at dawn.
While we're alive.
The sandals I bought many years ago
for twenty eros
in the Greek village of Theologos
on the island of Thassos
haven't work out at all,
they're just like new.
I must have gotten,
a hermit's, a saint's sandals.
How they must suffer
carrying an ordinary sinner.
translated from the Polish
by Clare Cavanagh
Farrar, Straus and Giroux2018