from The Horse of the Gorgon

Maxim Amelin

I'm Thirty But Feel Three Hundred

I'm thirty but feel three hundred,
and this rough poetry can't express,
either ably or artfully, the ten men
who could equal my worldliness.

Lead-tongued and heavy-laden—
roots rutting darkness, its branches
raking light—my song
lacks a ballad's punch and polish.

I'm cleaved into two hostile halves,
I'm faced with two good options:
the soul's reason-killing blaze
or the soul-killing cold of reason?

I find I'm unified—half-snake, half-bird—
first I plunge from above, then soar
up from below. I traverse both earth
and sky unsurely, stuck here in midair.

My stepmother, the capital,
sheltered me, but it's Kursk where I know
faces I can no longer place, souls
like those in Dante's Paradiso.

Nobody knows me either. My sight's slipped
from years rendering the unworldly earth.
How often now have I tripped
on that rake I left out in a past life?

Long Now You've Lounged in Earth

Long now you've lounged in earth—futile,
useless—but at last your hour's struck:
you stirred from sleep, roused
your head's dead yoke, and aligned a crooked

spine, its vertebrae cracking like lightning—
a vast array of thunder's fearsome
peals, which lead now to the hail stones
these high heavens shed and shudder,

each transforms and tapers on the fly
into droplets thirsting to germinate, akin
to seeds, heedless of how
they'll sprout, whether as emerald herb,

hazel woods, or some other verdant
shoot . . . You've lounged in earth so long now—
futile, useless—but here it is, the moment
you faithfully tarried till:

for it is better to oversleep
your own short age, disdaining all
earthly vanity, than to grope dimly down
its crenellated top, stumbling across

with hesitant steps and carefree
laughter, preaching "All's well! Superb!"
That's why those who don't know
your true name call you a river of words. 

Rising at Morning from My Graveside

Rising at morning from my graveside,
I rub these eyelids till they're lucid,
and then, squinting windward,
I set off—unsure where I'm directed—

only to stumble through my thought's thicket.
Daily I strive to divide my half-dreams
from this half-light, but the cupped scales
dip—first to waking, then to fictions—

and won't hold still a whole second.
But through dream's doughy incubation
a trumpet, also baked in pastry, cries—
I clearly hear it, calling me to awaken.

I imagine it's the call to Judgment,
leaving me to choose between one of two
options: go numb or exclaim "My God!
I rouse my spirit to greet You."

translated from the Russian by Derek Mong and Anne O. Fisher