all poems are © copyright 1985-2003 Nina Kossman


		The shape of a whisper?
		What else do these bones promise?
		Lying in wait of some body's love,
		stretching thin arms, twitching thin nose,
		witholding kisses with a halting hum,
		why, they are growing instant shadows!
		They are developing twisty leaves!
		Here, in the ground beyond the world,
		they are dancing a rat dance, they are twinkling a beat!
		The shape of a whisper?
		The flesh of a kitten's sweetness?
		Here, in the ground beyond this world,--
		breathing a fondness for sun-sung thingness,
		dream-calm, dew-pure, moons away.


		The left hand of darkness is light walking backward.
		The absolute is the runaway smell of an ancient rain.
		The mouth we kiss is not the mouth we stake our fate on.
		Look: the throb of light is the cool breeze of years to be.

		The shore of detachment is away from the sleeping seaweed.
		The fists are open for the air to smile them away.
		Nothing is less our own than the ashes the wind is keeping.
		Look: the sun and the body both rush to a destination of light.

		Wakefulness is a familiar dream of the dry face of canvas.
		Wakefulness: the longing so filled with the gestures of light,
		it no longer knows the border between word and silence
		and cuts through it calmly like a swimmer into a hypothetical wave.


		To see faces of men, remote and deep,
		remote as in a listener singing without words,
		singing and seeing the processions of thousands	
		waiting for the picture to drift and sing
		organize into prismatic perceptions
		the unkempt indifference of their wish.

		To see the wish grow ripe in the images darkly golden,
		darkly painted as the whole stands darkly seen;
		desire golden the aura of centuries painted real,
		recollected within the shadowy clearness of a mind within
		a sea of images, a sea of birds, a birth within
		a sea, foam like wings, new birth, new air.

		To see the images unravel life within life,
		fertile and thickening at the edges--a defense
		against life's awkward movements to dislodge
		its seed; to turn it limp, and damp, and swarming
		with images of the past again--a star, an axe,
		salt on the axe, and in the throat.

		Music will be salty, too: overwhelmed
		with images like sounds, shadows dissolving into song,
		shadows conversing in unreal tongues, unreal echoes,
		air drifting words in voiceless paraphrases, painted men
		under a painted star fishing for the future nestled in the sea
		like in a womb, the safest citadel of singing
		birds flapping wings imagining alarm:
		"The womb has lost its power to create!"
		without voice, without words, these golden faces
		sing of the past--the salt, the axe,
		the air drifting in while they stand frozen--
		the guards, the public: a museum still.


		He dreams his way up to being,
		quietly, with unhurried breath,
		as though breath were a blossomed staircase
		leading to a perfect sky
		where kind-eyed gods themselves
		with slow, sinuous movements,
		ancient skin and immaculate hands
		would greet him kindly: "Friend!"
		As though the net to catch human souls
		were masterfully spun of poetry,
		and nothing but the sound of words,
		not even the sense--the color...
		Where are now the moon-lit woods
		standing up darkly and strictly
		in the soft, thick mist of his longing,
		now that he has constructed his perfect staircase
		and burst through his blooming sky.


		See how the black flock
		of quietly fallen birds
		stares, swallowing air,
		at the air staring down.
		Their minds become wings,
		their startled dreams
		of the sky insidiously sawed
		down to its very blueness--
		the black flock falling, without a sound,
		into the soundless blades of grass:
		the alloy of the hundred-eyed earth
		and the seeing sky.

		Look inside the face
		traced with the world's moist stone
		into the mirror of every kindness
		gentle bones and a hundred glories
		could neither imitate nor efface;
		see the white mingle with gold,
		the gold with dusty tracings,
		the foundation become weathered red,
		and the stone remain, alone,
		a salvaged monument to the faith
		shared by men delighting
		in stone's saraband to time.

		Naked leaves sifted nightly,
		gathered, fondled, and stored
		in long sheets of black fire,
		nailed firm to stars,
		free of feelings' clatter,
		freed most of all from the earth
		whose fingertips touched fire, arms
		steeped in the sickness of its craving:
		the earth's love is persistence; rust;
		time spread over wide pastures; weeds
		perpetuate the difficult love;
		leaf over leaf, thuds of jealousy,
		black, over the shapeless earth.


		Helen's shadow on Trojan rocks
		still threatens the Greeks,
		burdens them with the highest taxes
		the loved exacts from the lover:
		middle-class teashop warmth forsaken,
		adding machines count the killed,
		a scarce spring, a fruitless autumn,
		quiet markets and barren cribs:
		see the wretched pass for the mad,
		the mad for the licentious
		shoadows creeping after the main
		shadow over the town--
		see her blank eyes
		washed clean of mercy,
		memory of the guilt reflecting
		future centuries' blood.

			LINES (I)

		Stone words hard to wield,
		smooth as the moon washed of night,
		shape me into a weapon no man can see
		except with the eyes of his bones.
		Words tight as skin in a fleshless space,
		worn thin in a cage of a promise,
		design fast the leap into the air
		no man can follow, see nor stop
		with the scared silk of nightly kisses
		or daily prayers in his expectant hand.

		See how nothing
		keeps out of Pluto's gorge,
		silently drifts
		towards it, waits, sinks
		into the thickening dark,
		the unreflecting water,
		grave made of mud and stones:
		this way--to hide lizard shadows,
		here--to rob of flesh;
		though mercy's an unprofitable profession,
		save me from too much death.


		I will grow myself quiet leaves
		in the diffiicult silence of chastity.

		I will hide in the immense namelessness
		though each tree murmurs to him my name.

		I am the bed of leaves he can never scorch,
		not even with his eyes of fire.

		I am the naked face of the flower; a cross.
		He cannot escape by reaching me.

		The god and the goal; the lover and the loved;
		the pursuit and the flight, entwined.

		Though a god, he will die in the depths of my bark.
		I will glisten his face on my leaves.

		Every eagle will have his eyelids.
		Every event--his speed.

		Each one of the thousand suns
		will pursue me as he has chased.

		Each one of the symbols of silence
		will learn his name I refuse to bear.

		I am he: the sun, its immense bowl
		pouring out selves as from a fount of chastity.

		He is I: the ever-green song in flight,
		the sun forever pursuing me.

				"... he was troubled in spirit, and testified, 
				and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, 
				that one of you shall betray me. Then the disciples looked 
				one on another, doubting of whom he spake.  He then lying 
				on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus 
				answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have 
				dipped it. And when he  had dipped the sop, he gave it to 
				Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.  And after the sop Satan 
				entered into him.... He then having received the sop went out 
				immediately out: and it was night."	
						John 13:26-27 (King James Version)


		Handing me the bread
		dipped in the dish--
		not saying.

		It was your look.
		In your hand:
		my shame.

		Judas the faithless,
		Judas the weak,

		Forever to regret
		not saying
		"I will not touch this sop."

(originally published in GOSPELS IN OUR IMAGE, a Harcourt Brace anthology edited by David Curzon)


		Eros's castle
		of seven red stones
		(seven on either side,
		seven behind )
		built for the Soul:
		she lives in the ring
		of flame. Four
		trees shot up
		after the stones fell.
		Four blue flames
		leapt up,
		their heads touching.
		The duplicity of love,
		you, who obscure the imagery,
		neither divine and human,				
		Babel of our minds,
		Chaos of our loves,
		--I will step into the fire myself--
		Phanes, the light-bearer,
		Hermes, the envoy;
		when the fiery ring vanished,
		it disclosed 
		Eros and Chaos, brothers.

					"Wishing to gain Cassandra's favors, Apollo 
					promised to teach her the art of prophecy; she learned 
					the art but refused her favours; hence Apollo deprived 
					her prophecy of power to persuade." 
					Apollodorus, The Library, III.xii.5  (tr. J. G. Frazer)

		So. You are Apollo. Well, that's a new one. 
		As good a line as any to get a girl.    
		A godhead must be like a flowering tree, 
		open in every pore. But you 
		are closed in upon yourself. 
		Devious god, I see right through you.
		You guard the image that protects the space
		in which you hide, aloof and conscious godhead.
		Grant you your desire? 
		But I'm only an image in your dream, 
		an inverse reflection of yourself, 
		a bit of instinct, a bit of soil... 
		Love you?
		Foolish god, I'm a mortal girl, 
		I cannot love a consciousness, 
		perfection of a mind that is god.	
		Besides, I'm not a starry-eyed virgin from a story-book,
		although I may look like one to you 
		as I stand here discoursing with an emptiness, 
		the disembodied space that claims to be a god.
		We trade?...
		Lord of the lyre, master of song, lord of prophecy, 
		king of praise and of timely whispers,
		prove now that you are you, 
		and not an empty cloud begging for a shape.
		My wish?
		To have the future at my fingertips! 
		To have the power of your priestesses, Apollo,
		but without the laurel-chewing nonsense, if you please: 
		I'd get a headache from all the chewing. 
		Measure the price of my body in prophecy: 
		how many foresights am I worth?  Ah! Now!... 	
		Grant you your desire?
		Now that I am a goddess as much as you are a god?
		Who do you think you are kidding, lover? 
		The scales of the future are eloquent, delicate, quick. 
		A kiss, only one, don't ask for more. 
		I must go. To Troy, to tell them. 
		I owe you nothing, lord of good manners,
		god of  frost and diluted dreams.
		Back to your void, Apollo. 

(originally published in GODS AND MORTALS: MODERN POEMS ON CLASSICAL MYTHS, Oxford University Press, 2001)


		The stronger evidence of a cloud which carried him
		into the paper-strewn lot of a magnified dream
		no longer his own, no longer here, no longer alive,
		as it was when it used to entrap him. As it was,
		it was no longer a cloud that carried him.
		He, on a string of his dream, carried it,
		and no longer to a place of exact destination
		where purpose bloomed darkly, its petals lips 
		to feed the desire of morning air, the final air
		in the final dream, where he himself was the cloud.
		Or, he was what he was. The desireless shadow,
		proudly calm, proudly insouciant
		at desire's death. He dropped it off like a coat,
		this second skin, this disease, this signifier
		of the serene and the feverish, 
		the true and the false--the prevailing guile.
		His confusion resolved and his purpose realized:
		he in the sky, he sans his cloud, he sans his human shell.

						"After Agamemnon returned to Mycenae 
						with Cassandra, he was murdered by Aegisthus 
						and Clytaemnestra; for she gave him a shirt 
						without sleeves and without a neck, and while 
						he was putting it on he was cut down....And 
						they killed Cassandra also."
						Apollodorus, The Library, Epitome, vi. 23 (tr. J. G. Frazer)

		I've warned you of the bloodbath:
		a bath, with your blood in it, literally.
		But there you go, blundering right in,
		no hand of fate can stop you,
		the hand that wants you dead. 				
		And I, who will be killed soon after you,	
		why should I care--when, or of whose hand.
		So don't stall--go on, go in,					
		step blindly into your matron's trap,
		hero of the great war, great murderer yourself.
		Before I die, I'll see you flounder, 
		like a fat carp, in the fishnet of your queen. 
		But what is this water in my eyes?			
		My eyes that have seen my brothers killed,
		My city razed, before and after.
		Nobody here weeps for you, therefore I will,
		I, Cassandra.

		A bomb said to a city:
		"I'm falling."
		The city asked:
		"Whose side are you on?"
		The bomb said:
		"I take no sides. I'm falling."			
		The city said: 
		"Look around you."			
		The bomb said:
		"Too late."	
		The city did not say anything.

Marina Tsvetaeva
English translations copyright (c) 1998
Poem of the End (Ardis, 1998), 190 pp.
ISBN: 0-87501-112-8

						Marina Tsvetaeva
						Translated from the Russian by Nina Kossman
		The Lord has rewarded me
		With a light-filled and iron heart.
		With a gift of singing, a tearful gift.
		The Lord has protected me
		With a white flag.
		The Lord has passed me by
		With the carnal flame.
		Hold higher the flag!				
		The Lord above us!
		Heavier than stone--
		The carnal flame!
		May 1918

						Marina Tsvetaeva
						Translated from the Russian by Nina Kossman
		I said, and another heard,
		Whispered to a third, who understood,		
		And the fourth, taking his oak staff,
		Went into the night--to a heroic deed. 			
		The world made a song of it, and with that
		Song on my lips--O life!--I meet my death.
		6 July 1918

						Marina Tsvetaeva
						Translated from the Russian by Nina Kossman
		They christened us in the same tub,
		They wed us with the same wreath,
		They tortured us in the same jail,
		They branded us with the same iron.
		They will build us the same house.
		They will cover us with the same mound.
		5 August 1918

						Marina Tsvetaeva
						Translated from the Russian by Nina Kossman
		My light tread
		--A sign of clear conscience--
		My light tread,
		My ringing song--
		God placed me alone
		In the midst of the great world.
		--You are not a woman but a bird,
		Therefore--fly and sing.
		19 October 1918