Joseph Brodsky (24 May 1940 – 28 January 1996 / Leningrad)
From A School Anthology
1. E. Larionova
E. Larionova. Brunette. A colonel's
and a typist's daughter. Looked
at you like someone studying a clockface.
She tried to help her fellow mortals.
One day when we were lying side by side
upon the beach, crumbling some chocolate,
she said, looking straight ahead, out
to where the yachts held to their course,
that if I wanted to, I could.
She loved to kiss. Her mouth
reminded me of the caves of Kars.
But I wasn't scared off.
this memory dear, like a trophy won
on some unintelligible battle-
front, from enemies unknown.
That lover of plump women, that lurking tom,
D. Kulikov, then hove in sight --
he married her, did Dima Kulikov.
She joined a women's choir,
while he toils in a classified establishment --
a great bony engineer...
But I can still recall the long corridor
and my struggle with her on the chest-of-drawers.
Dima at the time was an ugly little pioneer.
Where did it all go? Where's the reference point?
And how can one, today, hope to discover
that which has transfigured all these lives?
A strange world lurked behind her eyes
she could not understand herself. Or rather,
she did not understand it even as a wife.
Kulikov is living. I am living. She is living.
But what happened to that world?
Perhaps it is keeping them awake?
I keep mumbling my words.
Snatches of a waltz come to me through the wall.
And the rain rustles on broken bricks.
2. Oleg Poddobry
Oleg Poddobry. His father was
a fencing coach. He was familiar with
it all -- thrust, parry, lunge.
No ladies' man, nevertheless
he used to score, as sometimes happens
in the world of sports, from offside.
That was at night. His mother was sick,
his little brother wailing in the crib.
Oleg picked up an axe and when
his father entered, battle began.
But the neighbours arrived in the nick
and four of them got the better of the son.
I remember his face, his hands;
next, the foil with a wooden grip.
Sometimes we practised fencing in the kitchen.
He got hold of a ring with a whopping stone;
used to splash around in out communal bath...
He and I left school together; then
he joined a cookery class, while I
worked as a milling operator in the Arsenal.
He baked pancakes in the Taurid Gardens.
We had a good time carting firewood,
on New Year's Eve sold fir trees at the station.
Unfortunately, in association
with some low character,
he did a shop -- he got three years for that.
He warmed his ration up over the bonfire.
Was released. Survived some heavy drinking.
Did factory-construction work.
Got married to a nurse it seems.
Began to paint. Wanted, apparently,
to take up art. His landscapes were,
in places, not unlike
still-lifes. Then he got pinched
for playing tricks with medical certificates.
Now all there is, is silence.
I haven't seen him now for years.
Was inside myself but didn't run into him.
Now I am free. But even out of gaol
I never see him.
he is surely strolling through the woods, breathing in
the wind. Neither kitchen, gaol, nor college could
absorb him. And he vanished. Like Jack Frost
he managed to disguise himself.
I hope he is alive and safe.
Now he excites my interest,
like the other characters from out of childhood.
But he is more unreachable than they.
3. T. Zimina
T. Zimina; a delightful child.
Her mother was an engineer, her dad
a tally-clerk -- I never knew them.
She was not easily impressed. Although
a frontier pilot married her.
But that was later. Her trouble
started earlier than that. She had
a relative. A district committee man.
With a car. Her folks were separated.
Evidently, they had problems of their own.
A car was quite unheard of.
Well, it all began with that.
She was upset. But later, things
seemed to be improving, as it were.
A gloomy Georgian came on the scene.
But suddenly he landed up in prison.
And then she gave herself
to the counter in a large haberdashery.
Linen, fabrics, eau-de-Cologne.
She loved the whole atmosphere,
the confidences and her friends' admirers.
Passers-by goggling through the window.
In the distance, the officers' Club. And officers
flocking like birds, with a mass of buttons.
The pilot, returning from the skies,
congratulated her on her good looks.
He gave her a champagne salute.
Marriage. However, in the Air Force
a high value is placed on chastity; it
is raised to the level of an absolute.
And it was this scholasticism that
accounted for her almost drowning.
She had already found a bridge, but winter'd come.
The canal was covered with an icy crust.
And again she hurried to her counter.
A fringe edged her eyelashes.
Onto her ashy hair the neon
lights poured their radiance.
Spring -- and by the doors flung wide,
the current of customers seethes.
She stands and gazes from the piles of linen
into the murky channel, like a Lorelei.
4. Yu. Sandul
Yu. Sandul. Sweet-tempered as a polecat.
With a face that sharpened towards the nose.
Informed on people. Always wore a collar.
Went into raptures over caps with peaks.
Made speeches in the lavatory about
whether the badge should be pinned on the jacket.
Pinned it on. Generally enthused
over all kinds of emblems and insignia.
Loved ranks and titles to distraction.
Styled himself `PT Instructor',
though was as old as Jacob to look at.
Considered furunculosis as his scourge.
Was susceptible to colds,
stayed at home in bad weather.
Mugged up his Bradis tables. Was bored.
Knew chemistry and yearned for the institute.
But landed in the infantry after school --
those secret underground forces.
Now he is drilling holes. It's said,
in the Diesel works. That may not be so accurate.
But perhaps accuracy is irrelevant here.
Of course, it's a speciality, a status.
What's important is, he's doing a correspondence course.
At this point we will lift the curtain's edge.
At dusk, besides absorbing Marx, he leafs
through The Strength of Materials. Such books,
incidentally, give off
a special scent at night.
Doesn't consider himself to be
a simple worker. In fact, looks to the next class.
At dusk he strives for new
horizons. Metal's resistance
is pleasanter in theory! He is bursting
to be an engineer, to get at blueprints.
And, come what may, he will be one.
Like this... the amount of labour,
surplus value... progress...
And all this scholasticism about the market...
He makes his way through dense thickets.
Would like to marry. But hasn't the time.
And he prefers parries, casual
`Our future -- smiling -- engineer'.
He remembers the sombre mass
and gazes past the girls, out of the window.
He is lonely in his own manner.
He is a traitor to his class.
Perhaps I am overdoing it. But
the utilization of a class for hire
is more dangerous than the perfidy of men.
`Youth is sinful. Blood is hot,' he says.
I even remember that plain-speaking poster
that dealt with casual relationships.
But there is no clinic and no doctor
to guard you against these déclassé ones, to
protect you from the inflammation.
And if the age we live in is no wife to us,
then it's so as not to pass on the infection
from this generation to the next.
That is a baton we can do without.
Comments about this poem (From A School Anthology by Joseph Brodsky )
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