A DREAM: Odessa, 1955

The day before getting ready
for the ballet--Swan Lake.
A quick bite, spilled hot soup,
scalding pain, weeping, the red arm
smeared with sunflower oil--
by evening the boy is feverish.
"Don't even think about
going to the ballet--shush!"
More tears--insult added to injury.
He fitfully settles to sleep.
Father sits down to his work
by the light of a desk lamp
left from better days--
a bronze Cupid on a swing
which angles a widening cone of light
from the frosted shade.
A pile of books is on the table.
The scene does not fade out,
but moves beyond the border
of consciousness, into dream. . .

He is in a vast pit;
alongside is someone invisible,
but whose voice is loud and clear.

"What is your wish?"
"I want to see a swan lake."
"So you shall."

Abracadabra; now the boy
is standing on a desolate shore,
a small sea or lake.
Precisely geometrical waves
come in rows to peter out
and withdraw from the verge.
Not a swan is seen,
nor are there any ballerinas,
of whose very existence
the boy knows nothing.

The waves stop moving;
for a moment all becomes
a mediocre colorplate
from a children's book
read the evening before.

Scene shift--the boy is riding in a railcar.
alongside is someone invisible,
but whose voice is loud and clear.

A strange unending city
built of nursery wall clocks
flashes by the windows.
Hordes of grey mice
scurry between the clock-houses--
"These are little mice-minutes,
each of them will take
a little bite of you."
"And then what happens?"
"Then you won't happen at all."

The image fades;
Eveything begins to swing,
a grey shroud floating before the eyes,
cut by thin glowing stripes--
chinks in the shutters.
Father has already left for work.
Granny and the neighbor ladies
are heard in the foyer--
"So, that means it won't happen at all?"
"No, not at all."

Then he awakens.

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