Speaking In Tongues
Scribbling In Voices

Joseph Brodsky

 Translated by Alex Sitnitsky


On the 100th Anniversary of Anna Akhmatova

The fire and the page, the hewed hairs and the swords,
The grains and the millstone, the whispers and the clatter —
God saves all that — especially the words
Of love and pity, as
                               His only way to utter.
The harsh pulse pounds and the blood torrent whips,
The spade knocks evenly in them, by gentle muse begotten,
For life is so unique, they from the mortal lips
Sound more clear than from the divine wad-cotton.
Oh, the great soul, I’m bowing overseas
To you, who found them, and that, your smoldering portion,
Sleeping in the homeland, which, thanks to you, at least,
Obtained the gift of speech in the deaf-mute space ocean.

Funeral of Bobo

Bobo is dead. Though, hats — don't off. No need.
What would explain that nothing helps to bear it.
You will not pin a butterfly with the Admiralty needle
To maim her wings. Just say, «So long...» in spirit.
The windows’ squares, the arches’ mournful span —
No matter how long you look around, as for
«What has befallen here...?» — open an empty can
And answer, «That, perhaps, and no more questions, asshole!»
Bobo is dead. And Wednesday’s also gone.
The streets are white, no place to sleep, to go.
Only the black, night river is to run
Not taking in the falling down snow.
Bobo is dead. The sadness fills this line.
The windows’ squares, the arches. Gosh, it happened!
The frost is so sever, that if one has to die —
It should be done by a fire-shooting weapon.
So long, Bobo. Bobo, my beauty, rest.
A teardrop suits the sliced cheese. We are fussy,
It’s arduous for us to follow in your path,
To stand in place, as well, would not be facile.
Your charming image, dear, I foresee,
In heat, in frost, in controversial gossips,
Will not become belittled, as it seems
In the unique perspectives built by Rossy.
Bobo is dead. This feeling is so bad,
It’s slippery like soap, and open to be shared
With everyone. I dreamed I’m laying in the bed.
And I was there in fact. Let’s pitifully tear
Off Thursday’s page. There’s nothing to be stored.
The list of losses should start once again from zero.
The dream without her reminds a real world
And air comes into my room by a black square.
Bobo is dead. The lips are parted as
If something tempts to say, «Oh, don’t ...» And then eternal,
Dark emptiness will follow your death
It’s likely and much worse than biding in inferno.
You were my everything. Because of your decease,
My beautiful Bobo, you have become my nothing.
Or, rather, a small clot of voidness. But it is
Still something, if you think, annoying and harassing.
Bobo is dead. And the horizon’s line
To rounded eyes is like a razor. Your place —
Neither Kiki, nor Zaza — in this life —
Will ever take. I’m positive and helpless.
I do believe in emptiness. Don’t look!
It is like Hell. But fucken worse and scary.
And the new Dante bends before a blank notebook
To seek the proper word, to find it and to tarry.

* * *

From nowhere with love as of — teen Febromay
sweetheart darling or just to whom it
doesn’t matter who ‘cause the face let’s say
frankly already forgotten loomed and
no one’s friend says hello from the one
of five continents which is held by cowboys.
I was fond of you more than of Him and Son
therefore removed far from you as much these two both;
in the night in the valley by slumber retained
where the small town is covered up to doorknobs by snow
in the night on the sheets being twisted with pain —
and at least wouldn’t be mentioned it here below -
I am whipping the pillow by bellowing «youuu»
many seas away with the luck of pity
in the darkness your features by the flesh anew
like a crazy mirror forlornly repeating.

Letters to a Roman Friend

Wind is stronger and the beach is flooded almost.
       Soon the fall will turn the land entirely.
All these shifts in colors are more touching, Postumus,
       Than the changes in your ladyfriend’s attire.
A virgin could amuse you, but be careful, buddy.
       Won’t get further then her knees or elbows in your passion:
Pure beauty separated from the body
       Is more joyous — neither kisses, nor deception!
I am sending books to you. What are they up to
       At the capital? Your bed made soft, but hard to sleep on?
How fares Caesar? What’s he doing, the great actor,
       Plots and gluttony? It seems to me so flippant.
I am sitting in my garden, torches glow.
       Neither friends nor maids nor girls can bother.
To replace the mighty of this world and low
       There is nothing but insects’ harmonious buzzing.
Here lies an Asian merchant. He was decent,
       Undistinguished and, respectfully regretted,
He died suddenly, of fever. Not to this end
       He sailed here, but for a business matter.
Next to him a soldier lies under the coarse bolder.
       He brought fame to the Empire. I don’t get it —
Should be killed so many times, but dies an old man!
       Even here, Postumus, the rules are quite neglected.
It’s the truth — a hen is not a flyer,
       And its brain will let you down. That I promise.
If you’re fated to be born in the Empire
       I’d prefer to spend my life somewhere in the province.
Far away from Caesar and from winters,
       You are not supposed to be afraid, to hasten and to flatter.
Are you saying that all governors are swindlers?
       But compared to bloodsucking — thievery is better!
I don’t mind being with you, my strayed and charming sister,
       Till the downpour will stop. But don’t be goofy.
To demand from covering flesh entire sesterce,
       Is like snatching shingles off the roofing.
Are you saying that my roof is leaking? Where’s the puddle?
       I’m not one who leaves the spots. I seriously mean it.
If you find a husband after battle,
       He would leak, like hell, all over linen.
We have reached the middle age, and it is very cruel.
       An old slave once told me, «We can’t fix it.
Looking back we see behind us only ruins.»
       A barbarian’s point, but it is so convincing.
From the mountains I brought a garland down here.
       I will find a jug, but I am in no hurry.
What is going on in Libya? Am I mistaken? Where?
       We are not engaged in all this fighting, are we?
Can you still remember the Proconsul’s sister,
       Skinny one, with heavy calves? And when she was a maiden
You once slept with her...So, she became a priestess.
       A priestess, Postumus, with gods she’s now mating.
Come and visit me. The wine, the bread is gorgeous.
       You would tell the news; when conversations wane,
I would make the bed for you. I would put out torches.
       I would call each constellation by its name.
Very soon your friend, addicted to addition,
       To subtraction his old debt will carry.
Take my savings from the hiding and, I wish, then
       You would find enough for the befitting burial.
Take a ride for me to the Hetaeras’ House.
       All those girls deserve to be my heirs.
Give them what they used to charge to love us
       So for equal price they mourn me with their wails.
Laurel’s verdure’s on the verge of trembling.
       Door’s ajar. The windowpane is dusty.
An abandoned chair. A piece of cloth is dangling
       Taking in the noonday’s sunny luster.
Someone’s boat fights with the wind toward the promontory.
       Pontus hums behind a fence of pine trees.
A Pliny’s book lays on the bench and «Do not worry!»
       Thrushes chirp within the afro of the cypress.

* * *

Here are some observations. In a corner, it's warm.
A glance leaves an imprint on the object and on
Water, which is glass. According to a worm --
A man is more scary than his skeleton.

A nowhere winter evening. The wine is light.
The porch is under an osier's attack.
The body rests on the elbow like
The moraine outside the glacier in the dark.

Years after a fossil will be found and educed
From behind the curtains and oozed trough the fringe, two
Prints of the lips perhaps in the blues
That had no one to say «Goodnight» to.