like a broad dacha verenda,
moves fast enough for you to forget
the hot, still June air.
Windowless, the car has a chin-high railing
on ornate little posts, hard to hang on to,
so you don't stick your head out,
a thing forbidden by law and by Mama.
Even now, I can see the warning sign
illustrated with a heroic figure,
breaking off pillars with his own head,
which protrudes from the car.
I don't hear Mama's voice;
I don't hear streetcar wheels--
silent, voiceless past.
When fainting away,
sounds vanish last;
sounds remain hidden at the core.
I'm just shy of seven. We are going to the dacha.
Our landlady is named Anna Romanovna.
I recall her face, her shape, her gait,
but her voice and the sense of the words
she spoke are lost.
Later, as a teenager,
you no longer sense the importance
of chocolaty smooth pebbles
and dull bits of glass,
of common little shells
and simple sand, now
scorching, sole-searing, now
heavy and clammy
at the water's edge
where (and from which) is made
the finest of sandcastles and is baked
the finest of sandpies.
And the water, sometimes clear and frigid,
now warm and turbid, and so concealing
from the eye the scanty sealife--
Remember the sea urchins who
hide in the algae by the seacliffs?
(Well, there were too cliffs)--
sometimes you could see a seahorse,
tail wound round a swaying upright stem,
and chunky crabs, claws outspread,
scuttling for shelter.
A rockslide area--again and again
they creep down along the overhang,
a layer of earth built-up with shanties.
Before them opens a startling vista.
Easy to imagine
that a few years on
all the rest of the shacks
would slowly slide downslope,
that the roofs and walls,
buckled and folded, would be left
as strata of bleached limestone,
lumber, slate and tarpaper,
of the tumbledown frame of time.
In silence goes the gaudy open endless coach
of the streetcar past fin-de-siecle station kiosks
(built by the Belgians and standing even now),
past the former Catholic chapel,
from which emerges a Catholic priest
and several women, past
flowering and petal-dropping
and fruit-laden trees,
snow, blazing sun, golden leaves--
everything a jumble--
Anna Romanovna smiling,
Grandmother giving orders
("Slice the bread. . . not that bread. . .
not that knife. . . don't slice that way!")
Children elbow in around the basket
where a cat licks newborn kittens doomed to die
(save one, a ginger one, they'll let her keep).
Comrade Eliza walks beside my teenaged father
expounding on the subtleties of German speech
(with which he'll become better acquainted
during the war). The venerable arch missionary priest
Petr Orlov is caretaker of the dacha.
The German son-in-law will be deported
with his wife on a day's notice by the Nazis.
(The priest they will shoot.)
On the dacha lane it's autumn,
scattered leaves the ground concealing,
amber light, a tear of sprucegum,
on a tree trunk slow congealing.
Over fences spreading rampant
runs untended ruby grapevine,
rising up to scale the house front
peering out beyond the fenceline.
Back toward childhood life's flow lapses.
Topsy-turvy turns the household.
Death's a neighbor that surpasses
all attempts to get to know.
In the meantime, on our shoulders,
wings have yet to lightly settle;
we'll be happy just to gather,
sitting 'round the kitchen table.
Amber light, a tear of sprucegum,
on a tree trunk slow congealing--
on the dacha lane it's autumn,
scattered leaves the ground concealing.
© 1996 Boris Khersonsky. All rights reserved.
Translation by Ruth Kreuzer and Dale Hobson.