Hosting the Stranger

Volume 4 ~ 2011

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Four poems: Night Bath, When Famished Demons Bound after Me, A Chinese Toy for Liudmila Berezina, Mining

Elena Shvarts

Night Bath

I was the sea and I was the wave
A drop of the lord’s blood.
And the earth heaved beneath me
Like a martyr giving birth.
I was the sea and I was the wave,
Rolling across the face of the earth,
And the egg-shaped oval, the sky
Gleamed all around me.
My arms outstretched cruciform
And my head flattened,
I now enveloped the entire earth
Like a cosmic snake.
The sea shrank, like a ball
Between my temple and heel,
The ball sizzled, like a night fire
Like a swarm of queen bees.
Around Selena fast and murky,
A frail coracle I circled
On the shuddering and obscure,
The inscrutable heart of being.



When Famished Demons Bound after Me

When famished demons bound after me
Blue-coated and shaggy as wolves
What else, poor me, could I but do? –
Seized the moon’s cold stone from the sky
And hurled it down their maw – to blow them up.

The explosion’s brightness transformed them
Into lambs, and they nestled with me
(I had slowly appeared next to them):
Even their snow-white coats shined
As I gobbled them up – such joy!

Like a giant I stood next to them
With a hundred arms, triumphant in sorrow,
One by one I seized and shred and gobbled them up --
All they returned was a plaintive squeak.

But I said to them – Do not howl
And have no fear: You
Will lie there, briefly, in my stomach
Before springing forth from my head.

Having filled my womb with their light
I myself turned bright, stood with two arms
As a new family of cold, malicious demons
Sniffed me out. It would be the same torment.



A Chinese Toy

   For Liudmila Berezina

How sweet, how delightful in sultry summer
In the warm arms of a currant bush
To read about ships bound in ice,
About blizzards and glaciers, the poles,
And about the brave bullfinch.
The blue-grey sky of winter
Like the neck of the grey doves
Huddled high on the ledges,
When Boreas begins to blow
Through the perfume of cut hay
I recall turbulent Nansen
And a ship called The Fram, whose very name
Crunches, boots across snow
(Fram-froom, hrum-hroom)
Northern Lights across endless ice.

The entire ship froze – from mast-top to keel,
And the ice was slowly dragging it somewhere.
Then I was awakened by bird song – winter
Was moving off. Not a ship but now a lilac cloud
Playfully luring the soul somewhere.

I write this in frost – a frost
That brings tears to the eyes,
Dreaming about sultry summer
In the warm arms of a currant bush –
I lie with a book in my hand
Against the hard frosts, the snows.




This entire world is a mine pit
For the extraction of pain.
Our saviour is a miner,
And every one of us is here unwillingly.
He works off the books,
He bends to the pit-face,
To the murmuring of some poor creature.
The torch-lamp gleams from his forehead.
He walks amidst the glittering darkness
His blood and sweat mixed
In order to create more light
For the celestial cities.

We, in tears and torment
Aging and dying,
Losing our loved ones,
Our hands bloodied in ore
To extract the pitch-black coal,
We perish to heat heaven.

— translated from the Russian by Thomas Epstein