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by Osip Mandelstam

translated from the Russian by Svetlana Lavochkina


Life has fallen like a comet,
Like an eyelash into water.
Sorry mind, with lies aflame,
I have no one to blame.

Would you like a nightly apple,
Or a glass of fresh mead, steaming?
Shall I take off my galoshes,
Lift you in the airy evening?

I see angels through fair cobwebs
On the road, in golden lambskins,
With the yellow rays of streetlamps
Only reaching to their chins.

Silence: just a black cat, startled,
Turns itself into a hare,
Sews the pathway with a cross-stitch,
Disappearing into nowhere . . .

Your lips trembled, raspberry fever,
As your son drank tea at bedtime,
You were saying something random,
With no sense and no reason.

In a stream of lies you stumbled,
Then you smiled:
Your face rekindled
In a glow of awkward beauty.

Behind the cowl of the palace,
Under the foam of blooming gardens,
There is a land inside my eyelids,
In this land you will be my spouse.

We’ll choose the driest, warmest felt boots,
We’ll dress ourselves in golden lambskins,
And, hand in hand along this pathway,
We’ll walk and gaze into the distance.

Shining milestones won’t stop us,
We will walk without turning,
Dawn to dawn, light-laden lanterns
Under heaven’s violet awning.

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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