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Swan

by Oleh Lysheha

translated from the Ukrainian by James Brasfield and the author


My God, I’m vanishing . .
This road won’t guide me anymore . .
I’m not so drunk . .
Moon, don’t go . .
I appear from behind a pine—you hide . .
I step into shadow—you appear . .
I run—already you are behind me . .
I stop—you’re gone . .
Only the dark pines . .
I hide behind a trunk—again, you’re alone . .
I am—you are elsewhere . .
Absent . .
Absent . .
I am . .
Elsewhere . .
I am . . absent . .
I can’t pass by so brightly! . .
Wait a while . . I want so much
Just to have you above me . .
Perhaps, you don’t notice me? . .
Look: here is my foot—
Doesn’t the copper lace gleam on my shoe? . .
Doesn’t a bare bone whiten inside it? . .
I need a smoke . .
Bending, I find nothing on the ground . .
It hasn’t been too long since
People walked home from a night train—
Someone might’ve dropped something . .
I’ll smoke it after anyone . .
Look: I’m bending low again
And again I touch the dirt . .
No, an empty paper sheath . .
Something fragile again . .
Someone’s moldering bone . .
Why don’t you send someone? . .
Why doesn’t night’s bicycle give a ring? . .
Here you are—I’m stepping aside . .
Your road’s free now . .
I stand out of the way . .
Here once, under the pines
I found a glass shard . .
Farther on, the road forked—
The shard lay just in the middle . .
I simply took it . . I smelled it . .
Someone might have poured it up for me . .
Fine . . faceted . .
At first, I wanted it, but no . .
Here, once at midnight, I hauled out
A dry pine with roots, dragged it home,
And very near the village, drops of rain caught me . .
Suddenly, I was stopped by a quiet song . .
Somebody stood, swaying slowly on the road,
In the darkest shadow by a puddle,
And low above it a small tree grew . .
It might’ve been a wild cherry tree . .
He kept singing, watching the puddle fill . .
I dragged the pine through the water,
And with my other hand steadied my sack,
Where a bottle of red vino dangled . .
He didn’t move, but kept on singing . .
Should I have stopped there
And joined his singing? . .
Had he found
The one happy tree? . .
No one knows where it grows—
Or what it looks like . .
And who is allowed to recognize it? . .
I never stood under it,
Even to wait for rain to pass
Or watch between the drops
The silent froth appear . .
Swaying, he kept on singing . .
Otherwise, he would have fallen
And the rain stopped . .
He danced his own rain
Under that tree . .
I can’t do such things . .
Perhaps it was a wolf? . .
And once among the pines
A woman ran, looking around nervously—
Plump legs were still hers,
And hugging her neck
And hanging over her shoulders,
Hiding them loosely,
Was an armful of irises
Lulled on her breasts . .
Dusted with pollen, eyelids of the flowers
Blinked heavily, nodding off . .
She was floating, a huge light cloud,
And sinking into that fervent dream
I rocked gently on those breasts . .
She ran carefully as if carrying
Something intimate, a last treasure;
She plunged into shadow,
Harboring the small, weak lungs
From the deep incisions
Of this raw world . .
And it seemed at that moment,
When she came out, she ran from my heart,
Disappearing suddenly, with the whole world
Waiting on this deserted road . .
Last winter, I wasn’t here . .
I could escape . .
Just a little farther on—over there,
Beyond the tallest pine,
Under the Great Bear
Where the impetuous Venus,
Head down, descends . .
That winter, she burned violently,
Hurrying me farther westward . .
In Danzig I didn’t find any shoes . .
Look here: this one’s tied with a copper wire . .
There’s a hole near the big toe,
And though I entered all
The carved and heavy doors with crystal rings,
What can satisfy this foot? . .
At last I entered your bright museum
Over the river channel
Just to get warm. The cold rain
Seemed not to stop,
And no one was there . .
But in the corner, under glass
A pair of tall boots was drying
After lying idle somewhere
In a peat bog or a swamp . .
The feet that owned them
Are stones now
Under rippled laces,
With sharpened toes . .
I couldn’t stop staring . .
Near there, stood burial urns—
Such dark pots,
With eyes painted and small ears, etched,
Perhaps, with a bone awl . .
And rough bronze rings hung from them . .
The urns seemed one large family
Settled in a forest meadow,
Feasting on wild boar . .
Astonished, I looked,
Each to each . .
Fine . . truly fine . .
And each wore a string of cloudy amber
Small, split like mice fangs . .
And these were the urns with souls
Of very young girls
Sacrificed after their meal . .
Each one suddenly swollen . .
Does anyone believe
I have been there? . .
That my feet felt so comfortable
In those shoes? . .
After such a museum
There is nowhere to go . .
It grew cold toward evening . .
Winter was winter without snow,
Only that pungent rain . .
I waited until it died,
Then I left . .
Darkness was falling . .
I passed under low, twisted pines . .
Under the trees, mines were dug
And maybe, in a few,
There once lay a seam of amber,
And a few perhaps
Were deepened by foxes,
And I came close to falling into one . .
Then I was past them . .
It was night
When I came up to the shore . .
I saw no one . .
Only the damp sand . .
I sat a long time, looking out . .
Such quiet . .
Then from the thick mist
The swan appeared on the water,
Turned its head,
Then began to fade again,
Its high neck lifted
Was the last ray . .
Did that attendant let me go? . .
What an odd glare it gave! . .
And afterwards, with no one there,
I took off my clothes and went in . .
There was no tide,
All receded, lugging me out . .
Suddenly, the floor gave way, crumbling beneath my feet
And I went under . .
Turning my eyes from the bottom,
I embraced the whole sea at once . .
Our eyes opened to endlessness,
No sky, no ground . .
And now, coming back
On this night road,
I can’t seem to close those eyelids . .
Who waits for me
Behind a pine? . .
Drunk again, with empty hands . .
Oh, take my eyes—
I can step aside . .
Tell me, how does one return? . .
Just step into the shadow of a pine? . .
Like that? . .
Won’t it be forever? . .
Is it me? . . Have I come back? . .
But then, who had returned? . .
And that day . . no, a little later,
When at last I pushed the wicket gate
And asked for an egg
And had a hundred rubles to my name,
And Maria went to the hen coop
And brought me three eggs,
And took nothing . .
Only looked at me,
Telling how our one-armed neighbor
Left his house
And now begs alms in the trains . .
How regretful . .
So self-assured, his gray eyes, like a child’s . .
This road is calling me farther and farther
But I must leave . .
To what place can a man return
After the sea at night? . .
What is left for him? . .
Mountains, perhaps . .
How tedious the walk is, up and down . .
I feel the road under me,
Finding only the shadows of pines again—
Again and again the same shadow . .
Were these the mountains? . . Have they begun to rise? . .
Was it the swan
Lifting its neck . .
It overshadowed even the sky over the sea . .
I don’t know . . I’ve just entered the sea and am departing now . .
Look at me—
—I am spreading my arms
And rising to you . .
My God, I’m falling . .

 

Oleh Lysheha is a Ukrainian poet. He has published poetry, plays, and essays. (1998)

James Brasfield’s poems and translations have appeared in numerous journals. He teaches in the English Department at Pennsylvania State University. (1998)


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