KREMENETS: June, 1910

The ruined castle could be a stage set for Shakespeare.
The mountain is called Bona, bringing to mind Latin,
bonum is "good," or governesses (bona),
or bills due (bona).

However, the mountain itself
looks gloomy, a thicketed cone,
truncated, needless to say.
Four walls and a watchtower remain
of the building, and a deep well,
which holds a column of dark air
and the airless legend
of the castellan's daughter
who had fallen in love.

The affair is three centuries gone,
but even now her transparent ghost,
garbed in wedding white, flies headlong into the abyss.

Two high school girls cast stones into the well
counting out the seconds to measure its depth.
Remembering the laws of gravitation
one can calculate the drop by formula,
with a minor adjustment for the time needed
for sound to return.They wait in vain.
The girls crane, peering down.

The elder is named Nekhama (later called Nadezda);
the second is Rachel (who will be known as Raisa).
Rachel, fourteen, still has seventy-six years
before her (Nekhama will die in the thirties);
however, today, all this is history.

Eternally (i.e., outside of time),
along the shaft of darkness,
the wedding apparition of a Polish baroness
flies up toward an old Jewess
and two schoolgirls look into the abyss with empty eyes--
but better they should look in another direction, and
taking each other hand in hand, start down into the valley,
their eyes filled with the colors of fruit trees,
of rough white limestone walls
and the terra cotta ripple of rooftiles.

Then, flying up from the well bottom, the dull stroke will sound.

© 1996 Boris Khersonsky. All rights reserved.
Translation by Ruth Kreuzer and Dale Hobson