Odessa, 1988

He sees in a dream
the small town
on the estuary
where he worked
the first few years
following graduation,
a resident physician
at the regional hospital.

He had left that place
with few regrets.

From time to time
former patients
would visit him--
fewer and less often
over the years.

In his dream the square
in front of the new department store
and the slope down
to the bus station and the wharf
are filled with a dressed-up,
almost festive crowd.
He walks, rubbernecking,
seeking in vain even one familiar face.

Here is the church, long converted
for use as a furniture store;
scattered in front of it
are new but shoddy
armchairs and sofas
where old ladies
in flowery, fringed babushkas sit.
The womens' faces hold no expression,
their gnarled brown hands
rest on their knees;
at the feet of each old lady
is a basket of old junk--
around them crowd mocking,
stylish teenagers.
The women keep their peace.

While crossing the square
he runs into his father
who has gotten old, all worn out.
His charcoal suit
has probably seen better days;
Father is unshaven, which for him
is unprecedented.
In his hand is a small briefcase
containing a stethoscope
and a nickel-plated reflex mallet.

The dreamer is startled to realize
that he himself is carrying
an identical, or rather
the same briefcase.

Father says,
"Well, you finally made it back.

The dreamer replies,
"No congratulations necessary.
Fifteen years of work--
all for nothing. I will be forty soon,
you know, and already
I don't have the energy
to start from scratch.
There must be some mistake."

Father responds,
"First--soon you will be seventy;
second--the only solution
is to start again from scratch;
third--your mistake
was in leaving this place."

Then the dreamer feels
a little shove against his chest;
he rises slowly
into the air above the heads
of thousands of people,
but only a single face
is turned up to follow him.
The small round dome,
having flashed below, vanishes.
He is surrounded by a dim, pale,
faintly pulsing, cloudy shroud.

Oh Lord, the years pass
and already have passed
when there is nothing left
but to fall asleep lonely
and to wake up weeping.

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