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This poem is taken from PN Review 159, Volume 31 Number 1, September - October 2004.Two Poems (translated by Robert Gray)
The First Night
The first night began.
The door of the room opened into a room.
It was the time when the boats drew back within the houses.
A sail in me seemed no cause for wonder.
It clapped. It counted my pulse.
His wet body was gratifying to all the senses. I was kept
locked in this room. A beginner,
I have learned much:
That a woman can disperse herself within me
without caring for me;
that every twilight, in order to become beautiful,
I am compelled to this room;
that the apple of the witch is split in two and is hard;
that the flickered book, when you lay a thumb correctly to it,
has five layers: of birds, of women and shops,
of self-portraits, that change imperceptibly,
of ships with soon filled and soon loosened sails.
Then the harbour closes. The first night.
The sea rises to the tongue.
Lilia Brik with Majakovsky in Samarkand
The shadows are talkative, although they say nothing.
The light speaks in its way: a mute angle of light
diagonally on the floor, like a sleeping body. And
Majakovsky does not speak, and Lilia smiles. Because they cannot
speak (it is, of course, a photograph). There is the
feeling that they carry many, too many, secrets within them.
Resting in Samarkand at a kiosk. Two men stand
behind the display (pots, pastries, fruits?),
a third is behind low boxes laid flat on the earth.
In the foreground Lilia has the wooden bench, Majakovsky
is on a wicker chair of Uzbekistan. Both with walking sticks.
All five look at the camera. Who takes this? Osip,
her husband? She does not smile. It is summer. Her shoulders are
round and brown. She is determined to be the unrepeatable love
in the life of a great poet. One can see that.
Tatiana, the rival in Paris, will have to marry her Vicomte.
And in a few years Majakovsky shoots a bullet
through his head, in Lubianskij Street. Now already he looks
uneasy. But his pose - contrived of black
undershirt with white edging, outstretched arm, commander's
hand on the knob - puts a whitewash on everything. `I do not like it without you,'
he has informed Tatiana by telegram. But he is here.
He has spat fat melon seeds at his feet. The green mosque,
by order of the Soviets, is a camp for the worker's society.
Apart from this, everything is inviting, generous almost. At the topmost edge
of the photograph, the borders of the oasis. It is hot. Though evening
will confuse this order, with birds, with camels
from Buchara, airships from the hinterland. Four men,
one woman. One woman and one man. In the man's head
a beehive of women. He is much sought after, and so polite (reputedly),
and will read this evening at the Registan in front of five thousand.
But a forcible change in society
does not obsess him as before. His themes are more frequently stubborn:
unrequited love, loneliness, destruction. `I am so lonely,
like the single eye of a man on the pathways of the blind.'
Here one repairs the cracks in the vessel with gold.
Never before have we had so clear a picture. Because of its reduction
we cannot see into the boxes. It is better like that. The birds
stir. Lilia: light-headedness. Osip: absent.
Majakovsky: a chaos among convictions.
This evening, as he reads, he will calm himself with silk and with meanings.
When does the night come, and with the night
an ornithological magic? Wings, swarms, ornamental scrolls
that don't belong to reality. A feeling of dizziness.
Did he know much of women? In the photograph it's
still midday, a steep light. Nothing twilit. Directed glances
only. The cartridges of love. Blinding chess-moves on ice.
One must invent all this from a bleached memory
and within a moment thicken it, with the whiteness of the dress,
the black of the undershirt, the yellowed rubbish
on the edge of the bushes, the whites of their eyes; one must
invent the arguments and the endless, senseless exchange
of letters, telegrams, phone calls, and also the impending
dangers of love, and of an overexposed weariness.
This poem is taken from PN Review 159, Volume 31 Number 1, September - October 2004.