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by Osip Mandelstam

translated from the Russian by Svetlana Lavochkina

The painter led us to the depth
Of swooning lilac coppice.
The colors lie in rotund steps,
Scabs on a canvas surface.

He grasped the density of oil.
Its clotted summer,
Set by his purple brain to boil,  
Extends into the swelter. 

The shade goes purple, ever deeper,
The pipe—or whip?—like kindling, dwindles,
You’ll say, cooks in the kitchen
Roast chubby pigeons.

A see-saw only vaguely seen,
The veils a sloppy spatter,
And in the sun, a bumblebee

Commands this helter-skelter.

Osip Mandelstam was born into a Polish-Jewish family in what was then the Russian Empire. He became one of the great poets of Russia’s Silver Age, with a keen sense of the melodies of spoken language. By the 1920s, he was shunned by the Soviet establishment for refusing to write in praise of the state. He died in a prison camp in Siberia in 1938; his poetry and prose was preserved by his wife and friends and published in New York in a collected edition in 1955.

Svetlana Lavochkina is a Ukrainian-born novelist and poetry translator residing in Leipzig, Germany. Her work has appeared in Witness, Drunken Boat, Circumference, Eclectica, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She was a prize winner in the Paris Literary Prize 2013, run by Shakespeare and Company. Her debut novel, Zap, was shortlisted for Tibor & Jones Pageturner Prize 2015. (8/2016)

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