As stated a few weeks back, I visited Russia at the end of the ’90s and witnessed briefly the beginnings of the silent revolution that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union, briefly presaged the advent of authentic democracy in a nation that had lurched bloodily from absolute monarchy to the dictatorship of the proletariat and then slid backwards into the bleak comfort of oligarchy.
My memories are of seemingly limitless space and breathtaking beauty. These two poems celebrate both. The first recollects a brief halt on the Trans-Siberian railway; the second a trip up the Chusovaya river and into the Urals.
At Balezino Station we disembark in silence
under the great arch of night. First whispers
leave breath hanging, shining like bright smoke.
The old moon leans through cloud. A silver wind
blows the stars about like spray. A tide of trees
floods the half-dark, sucks at the line’s edge.
Motionless, we diminish, here at the junction
between two hemispheres. Behind us bloodless
territories of turned soil and domestic waters
and beyond the taiga, the first forest to come
tumbling out of the young dreaming of the world.
And now the thin edge of an eastern wind brings
tears of resin, a scent of green disorder, a cataract
of leaves and berries far ahead. Darkness crowds us
back onto the train. Rocked but sleepless, we sit
and stand by night-curtained windows, watching
the dim images of ourselves watching the flying trees.
BIRDS ON THE CHUSOVAYA
High flat sun, sour light draining like whey
through muslin cloud. This bird’s hanging
under shredded sails, turning on the axis
of its hunger, reordering the sky. The berkut,
summer eagle, sideslips into the treeline.
Where the river croons over stones, where
we drink from clear channels, this bird scars
the water’s skin. The swallow, stippling
the ribbed water, turns on a wide wheel
centred in a flat blue orbit.
Night’s sheet is torn at the corner. This bird
has a knife in its voice. It slides on a wire,
the owl, from maple to beech, yellow light
around its black eye, acid on its tongue.
Night rain boils in the river. Young moon
hooks clouds into ribbons and rags. This bird,
the heron, rising from the reeds, climbs on its
long arms from dark towards light.
From ANCIENT LIGHTS