No uppercase – there’s only a minor,
Plain letter, for payment, for evasion.
No beginning – just a block of China,
China of a block, in the Caucasian
States of North America. I also
Will grow into it. End of quotation.
That’s how, almost – not exactly, closely,
In a shop of souvenirs and trinkets,
Made of wax, skin, stone and faience mostly,
Some assiduous foreigner may think it’s
Meant to go. Too rangy for an Asian,
For an Aryan, a little thickset,
In a sort of restless dance, he’s pacing
With his alien feet beside the counters;
Rakes with hands belonging to an alien,
In the nosebags filled with skulls, with potsherds;
Meanwhile, he’s composing something, setting
To the beat, his lips moving in concert.
Once he’s done, immediately forgetting
Everything, and knowing he’ll forget it,
Will not write it down, though he already
Knows he’ll be the first one to regret it;
So he walks, monotonous, unchanging,
Lulls the wakeful, and rouses the torpid;
On occasion, stares in the avenging
Dark behind the window, with his swimming
Alien eyes, and as his eyes are searching,
Solemnly declaims regarding brimming
Cups of pigeon’s milk or aqua regia
Or hot tea, the simple goblets flaming.
On the broad canal outside, an angel
Steers the boat. And as it’s getting darker,
The assiduous alien rubs the aging
Bronze; inspects the flambeaus made of copper.
He’s not here right now. He may be closer
To his school, his library, the locker,
Closer to the palimpsest, the codex,
To the copper angel with a trumpet.
Fading specks seem closer to his thoughts than
Two of us; we’re not within his ambit.
Closer to River Styx than canal, he
Takes his steps, his dancing feet are stomping;
No beginning – there’s fire in the flambeau,
There’s a nameless stranger in the distance
Of dark Chinatown; inside a tempo,
In the shop of vagaries; an instance
Of a lost man, from a minor letter
Prolongating some unknown existence.
Wretch, who says that you’ll do any better?
Translated by Genia Gurarie