Speaking In Tongues
Guided by Voices



Scythian Babe. Photo: Tania Retivov

In our common postmodern pantheon
I stick out like a Scythian goddess
From this glass menagerie.
When we lock up for the night,
You float above me remembering
Your previous journeys.

A dream catcher from the Hopi tribe,
You find ourself in the right place,
Bakkchisaray is just a kiss away.
Your tribe members all born
With the same Mongolian spot.
Victims of the continental divide.

Three statues of Mercury
From Sofia, you tempt me with initiation
In the eternal mysteries of the Trimagister,
Shade guide and shapeshifter, protector
Of thieves, merchants, mariners,
Musicians, and interpreters.

A clay whistle bear from Kostroma
On three legs, you are closer
To my Scythian past.
With an accordian in your paws
You stomp in search of honey
Drawn from hyperborean herbs.

Turkish silver, you are
Half a century old. Tarnished
Like the reflection in winter
Puddles of Constantinople,
You seduce me with your mint
Smooth and thin like a quarter moon.

A samovar from Tula
Made the same year
My grandfather was born.
It should be smoking in some
Patriarchal pine grove scene
Of a datcha still life.

Elephants of ivory,
Your devotion knows no bounds.
The cats are simpler, last year's
Rulers with tails stuck out vertically,
You caused such a pandemonium
That even Dracula could never imagine.

My three new satellites,
Dragons by St. Petersburg,
Muscovite and Kiev potters.
I will teach you to behave,
Or else, here is St. George
The dragonslayer, in full regalia...

Oh you endless inventory
Of utensils and sundry of a bygone age,
How dare you release
Your masters?
What mockery awaits me,
Your present owner?

It's not for naught the lars of the hearth
Threatens to break you to pieces,
Pull you out of frames, pound you,
Feed you to the cats
Or trade you for matches
To the ratcatcher next door.

So what shall I do with you?
Where will you go once
Orphaned, my sinless ones?
Who will be the next
Protector and keeper
Of my menagerie?

You are not
My godmother, but that
Of my brother.
Though I have
Borrowed you.

The summer palace's
Princess in exile, your
Calling, among the pleiade
Of pythian blockade survivors,
Yours is «the soul of St. Petersburg.»

Forged out of the dichotomy
Of Marduk and Tiamate,
You persevered
Through God's Word
Having chosen between two

Romes, the Virgin
Of Sorrows. Nevertheless
The skirmishes between
Light and dark still
Play themselves out.

In this city of shades where
As a maiden you interpreted
Its jargon of the ruins,
The serpentine bedlam
Of wetlands now worries

Their incontinent foundation pits.
Pilings mounted on bones are toxically
Soldered like Sodom and Gomorrha.
The displacement of the litosphere
Threatens with a repeat ice age.

We are forced to forebear sailors'
Warnings, taking heed from the sea.
Before us, the ice will crack twice,
Behind us, the damned century gone.
And only a prayer is with us.

The incoming, outgoing tides suffocate
Under the ice. Against the street lights
Off the beaten paths along the Moyka,
Only the New Holland Arch
Fills in the winter twilight.

But the hell with them! This
Precarious night, I choose to remember
All our Tatianas who once floated
With trepidation along St. Petersburg's courtyards,
You, my mother, and my grandmother.

Jealous, but handsome
As a devil once. You are
Forgiven for occasionaly beating
My cats, invading my dreams.

I rarely entertain you
With abundant promiscuity,
Though instead I opress you
With my unrequitedness.

You have even hidden all the fire-
Arms, the green vitriol,
Swallowed the cianide,
Drunken all the spirits.

You swoon
Over my flaws.
Oh my bearded Khan,
How you wait for me!

With a swift draft you blow
The snowflakes from my lashes,
Surrounding me
With vapors of olden times.

At night you study
My naked palor,
Sucking all seditiousness out
Of my dreams, teasing my talismans.

Oh my ruthless Khan, admit it,
You drove him out, right? Was it you
He wore out with lustful longing
Of lips for nipples and etcetera?

Oh my one and only Khan, my tyrant,
Are you grinning? Maybe you and he
Are one? No? Then quit
Rustling in the pantry, for I know

Who it was that drove the rats away
And burned down that house during
Their mutual oblivion...
Here, have a bite to eat to save your soul,

Let's sit, and drink one for the road.
Look, see how the moon hangs on a star?
Oh my Khan, where is it you will go,
When it becomes my turn to haunt?

Your mainland split
Surges within me
With antediluvian recall

And Pythian ecstasy
Of the Oracle at Delphi.
Erupting from the wrath

Of Jehovah, you, oh
Umbilicus orbis terrarum,
Simulated the atomic splitting

Spasmodically vulcanizing,
As if you had contintentally imbibed
A lethal dose of heptyl.

From the times of the first high priestesses
Of Hera from Argos, I have been doomed
To declaim in hexameter the contents

Of theogenies, catalogues of ships,
Goddesses, and inventories
Of Poseidon's antebellum.

And to remember through
The pillars of Hercules the sliding
Of Scythian and Phoenician vessels,

Smoothly floating from Tavrida
To Peru and the Mississippi valley
Kurgans, and back along Iberia.

Cypress and tree resin.
Myrtle, cane, and cedar smoke
In the burners on board the arc.

The half gods having shared,
In their times, food and lodging
With the gods, desecrated demos,

And have sunken you into the depths.
From the nethers mud hailed
Across the heavens, overthrowing

The ten Atlatnic kingdoms,
Semiramida's gardens, Hesperides apples,
With the help of all four elements.

Your seven rivers changed their course,
Mare tenebrosum swallowed the land,
Minting itself in metallurgical shreds.

The marbles of Patros, eddas,
Cuneiform writings of the Chaldeans,
The Aztec codex of Chimalpopoc

All testify to the crack
Of your splitting backbone
Along sea cliffs to the ridges

Of the Appalachian mountains.
In the mysteries, the golden age's defeat
Flames in the blushes of maidens

From Samiya who sacrifice
Their hair to Hera's temple,
Dreaming at night of Chronos.

They often attribute to me
A hyperborean provenance.
My predictions from time

Immemorial have been written down
By five scribes, direct descendants
Of Deukalion. Bathing

In Kastalian waters, with laurel
Leaves in my mouth, I predict
The future to the past, the past

To the future over the burning
Remains of Python, who emerged
Out of your flood slime,

Until I myself don't burn
In my own prognosis
Of the erupting Vesuvius in 1737.

My wish is to cling
To your earthly remains
Amazed and with wonder
Through the patina
Of caves, near and far.

For I am Fevronia without
St. Peter, he was unable
To be born for
His kin was shot
By Lenin's decree.

And there are no suitors, none,
For such as the likes of me.
See me from your tomb,
I too was once fated
To be from Murom.

There are no words in common parlance
No winged expressions befitting
Such herculean gods as yourself,
Oh wise Ilya from Murom,
Rise before me...

No, pardon me,
A sinner. The wrong
Vita redaction, or else my memory
Fails me. Still, I shall call upon you
Through the glass darkly.

By land or sea? Either way,
No matter how to pass.
The shroud over the fields will watch.
The winged expeditor of dreams
Will guide the way.

Shall I gallop over on an argamac?
No, better to float in a skiff
Along the flowing waters with my
Schizmatic inventory of
Books without binding, icons.

Until my nose hits the right shore
Of the river Dniepr where the gold
Domes perpetually compete with
The Iron Maiden, and glitter
With Scythian gold and ancient chimes.

And here I climb along the stone wall,
I, sinner such and such,
Annointed by God,
A lost hopeless sheep.
Let me at least crawl to the three wells...

No one can imagine how
Difficult it is for shades to trudge
Along their way, or how flesh
Forms a barricade. A candle burns,
Shadows flicker along the walls.

I descend to thee alone
With a monk. Here lies Nestor,
The Chronicler. Nearby the young
Abbess Ephrosinia, my namesake
In sainthood. But where are you, Muromets?

I am barely holding in the near distance
Fading, I burn the final tear
Of wax, epehemeral I scan the non-
Decaying earthly remains.
Twelve Greek brothers,

Sylvester, Makariy, Onufriy
The silent, the martyr
St. John, son of the Varangian Theodore,
Honorable Ilya from the city
Of Murom. Glory be to thee!

My step now light and fearless,
There is no one to look back at.
By the church doors of Krestodvizhenskaya
They drink water out of the copper cross
Of Mark, the gravedigger.

Let them bottle me up already,
The Pharisees from Murom who
Called me the Sybil of Kumaea.
And let them drop this bottle with my contents
Next to you, Ilya, for safekeeping,
Till the end of time...


Cats. Photo: Tania Retivov

I spin throughout my apartment
As some kind of Freya at her chariot
Hitched to two halfbreed cats.
They balance my flight,
And together, with my talismans, create
A perfect team of body guards.
In their perpetual conflict
With the lars of the hearth,
They engage in partisan attacks,
Bread and circus, every night
Becomes a Walpurgis one,
Antelopes run through the corridors,
Changelings chase shadows until dawn.

All ancestors of all black, short haired
Cats are descendants of pirates'
Guides through Poseidon's waters.
They blessed the ship's
First journey with their presence.
During the Oyster Wars
The cats would find a way to be scarce
Among the cattails, and live on flounder,
Meet with other halfbreeds, multiply...

Patrick, I tried so hard
To call you Vas'ka, but your
Patron Saint of Ireland recognized
In you a fellow Celt, thrown to
The winds upon those same shores
Of the pirates' mainland of Columbus.
You smell like silt, seaweed,
Rags pulled out of a treasure chest
From the bottom of the ferocious
Bay at Cape Charles.
You fear all water inter-
Sections, land ones as well
As air. The devil dragged you
All over creation throughout
All your previous incarnations.
Until suddently to Eurasia you came.

Where, quiet, tfu, no, good -
Our refined lexicon, to which
You reply murf, mura, mrrr, makao
But never meow. And I, where is Kisska?
Out of gratitude, you sit on your haunches
And pray in all directions,
No one believes their eyes. Your
Eighteen Celtic lbs shine black.
Come morning, you throw me out
Or see me off. Tired after my
Weekends, and irritated by
Your interrupted sleep, you face
Either my endless getting ready,
Or inability to get out of bed,
Or seeing someone off myself.

All week you are ahead of me
In these Byzanthine chess moves
Along the board of my quarters.
From bed to bath to kitchen
To refrigerator, around the table,
Under the table, in the corner, the balcony,
To aquarium number one and two.
Insolent and patriarchal you believe
That I should be everywhere
All the time. A mad macao!
Erupts from a crimson mouth framed
By the whiskered darkness of your fur.

And so having gotten myself together
Finally under your parting gaze,
I fare thee well each work day
For your entire week. During weekends
Your attempt to continue the routine
Ends in a slipper thrown at you.
Convinced that it's useless
To see me off, you resign yourself,
Stretch along the headboard and dream
All day of fish, fat, sleepy
Catfish floating under ice holes.

The second halfbreed, grey, name-
Less kitty, is your niece.
You helped Dun'ka
With the birthing. There were three,
The firstborn, grey, from the
Cheshire cat's descendant. The second,
Your black seed, a result of your caterwaul.
And the third, provenance unknown.
We gave them no names, we were
Giving them away. The grey one
I hid in a bucket, with her pug nose,
And pink soles, all in a grey fog.

You would lie down with them,
Suckle Dun'ka like some grown man
Fondling breasts. They would run
Across you like across ancient Ararat.
Lazily you would squint at them,
Lick your nose, and fall asleep
Tucked into Dunya's belly. She took it
Until her paw was smashed by a car,
During her rare ventures from
Domestic bliss. After rehab,
She ran away forever. Since then
I taught you to look for each other,
Find and bring each other back.

The grey one pretends she is
A descendant from Marie Antoinette's cats,
They were sent by ship to the New World,
In anticipation of revolution. They came
And mixed with the natives, and voila,
My halfbreed with her queenly ways.
Her instinct surfaces, urges her to catch
Bubbles in puddles, drag a squirrel
In by the tail, tease a gull
With a freshly caught fish.

But her bearing, oh her bearing,
As if she were born in Persian
Courtyards, to entertain sultans,
Rather than in these white trash ones.
You don't like the word, «no,» especially,
As if it is some kind of germanic
Achtung. With disdain you turn
Away, squeamish, your whiskers
Scratch the hand that feeds you.

We float in our triangle
Out of Scandinavian eddas
Into Egyptian legends, grounded
We dig up in the sands
A mirage of the temple of Bakst,
Goddess of cats. In our common
Topography space is short circuited
By the cat tail's stream of consciousness.
We exchange the Egyptian stamp
For a Petersburg one, firmly planted
Along the embankment, we turn to stone,
Two sphinxes with the face of Amenhotep II,
And between them a stone Scythian goddess.

I have seen you cross me
From above the cross
Shining with a light
Spiraling, the blooming rose of winds,
Blowing away this draft
The ancient draft of the agnostics.

Your fingers formed the cross
Over a self-contained space
Your halo of my soul
Shone through
With a pneumatic sign.

You who have stepped off
The antimins of Byzanthium
Were witness to
The changes in the course of the rivers,
Of the procession around the altar,
Of the dual worship
To the triurne
Eventual silence.

A void rarely remains unfilled, yet,
Pustozersk, Solovki, desecrated
By those philistine birds, the sparrows,
Having cancelled the miraculous
By way of edict rather than council,
Against all apostolic canons.

Sometimes you are urged to leave
Us mortals for the sake of Christ
For the sake of toil and tribulation.
The better to feel one's pain
Gashed by thorns.

You neglected to protect me once,
As prayer had not yet converted
Into Word and remained
Unarticulated on my lips.
And for the third time the family curse
Repeated itself in my name.

Anatolian Turks could not look at me
Without pinching my cheeks to bruises
Against the Evil Eye.
They dressed me in Scarabs,
Hung a blue eye from
My three-year-old neck.
I was then taken to Pompeii, Lourdes,
And finally, to Ephesus, where
My handkerchief was sprinkled
With holy water from Virgin
Mary's well, and placed
Upon my lips,
Silent in their repentance.

But now you watch carefully
Over my breathing during sleep.
My pneuma worries everyone,
The cats, the lars, and you.
Each takes its turn to attempt
To wake me from apnea.

The cats cry out and I dream
They have brought me a kitten.
While I, I hold my breath far
Away from my self, floating.
My chest cracks like ice
Underfoot. The lars cannot
Keep still, he tries

To force me out of my extra-
Terrestrial wanderings. But
Only you find that articulated
Outlet by means of which I am
Returned to my menagerie
Through my dream, your litany:
Priest, priestess, harken awake,
Priest, priestess, harken, harken,
Awake, awake. On the dot.

13 January - 13 February 2000