This month in the Corner, we’re offering two poems from Russian-born poet Anton Yakovlev. Here is a poet informed by the aesthetic sensibilities of his origin, couching and expanding them now in the resilient fluid of his adopted English language.
Having left Moscow at a young age, Anton studied filmmaking and poetry at Harvard University. His work is published or forthcoming in The New Yorker, Fulcrum, American Arts Quarterly, Measure, The Raintown Review, Angle and elsewhere. He is the author of two chapbooks: Neptune Court (The Operating System, 2015) and The Ghost of Grant Wood (Finishing Line Press, 2015). He has also directed several short films. He presently lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey.
The notion of the émigré again figures large in the narrative of certain European nations, and we’re pleased in our pages to explore issues of identity, and the often surprising voices nurtured by such displacement, as we bootstrap up to larger cultural narratives in our world.
The Lingering Portal
In my dreams, the dogs always devour me
and whoever gets washed up in a trunk
from the sea, who kept me silent company
the morning after the bloody
battle of the captain with the stowaways.
He devours me sideways, while the dogs pull at me
skyward, and in directions I can’t name.
They lick their unfeeling lips, they have something on their minds.
They come from far away, carrying long-lost memories,
not thinking as much as feeling, and even that
barely visible behind their black-eyed faces
that smile persistently, disappearing,
melting into the land.
And then I see myself tangled in scarves,
as I walk away somewhere unpleasant
through this tall scenery with bits of dead earth,
serving no purpose other than to walk.
Slowly something rises behind the fog,
and I’m oblivious to its music.
It harmonizes distractedly, shies away
and then envelops me in green.
Further down the path, alleyways watch each other,
tangled in affectionate macabre poses,
shining a cold white light at another lost girl.
She has been staring at these fences so long,
but still they are so difficult to live with.
There is too much emphasis in them,
too much private, unrequited compassion.
Yesterday morning she finally snapped at them,
packed her bags, forgave them and made her plans
for a future that did not include them.
As she makes her way along the shore,
ships pass her by. These ocean liners are left
at the mercy of captains throwing trunks across waves,
each trunk a life, a fullness of cathartic
hopes in their prime. Hungry, they wash ashore,
cuddle with each other, cling to sand,
unable to stand up. And this is where I come in,
walking obliviously in their direction,
penguin-like, and not hearing behind the waves
the barking of those who have been here before me
and look at me. Behind the fences, there is a house;
and behind the blinds of that house, the Sun.
It shines through them, making them feel transparent,
and they show glimpses of the world outside
to the old man who lives in his wheelchair.
He sees the church, he sees the passing clouds
and, thinking of the days past, when somebody’s hair
would fly across her face like a spiderweb,
begins to lose his balance and go to sleep.
A Celestial Absolute
Poem ending with a line by Abbas Kiarostami
Back when you were a cloud, I would raise my eyes,
and right away I kind of knew direction.
When the wind sliced you into two halves,
I knew not where to turn the compass, not what to think,
not how to explain this thing that had come to pass.
I guess you had never been a regular human being,
but I failed to see if this had made you more
or less than. And the mountains told me nothing.
Then a bee flew up to me and stung me.
It was a huge bee: when I tried to hold it,
it fell out of my hands, it was so huge.
Dying in the field, I said: “Holy rusted metal,
will someone play some songs at my funeral?”
They all would, but I kept getting better.
Now I have a shelf-full of sad music
that I still listen to, I really don’t know why.
It’s playing now. You float across the sky,
one half of you blocking the Southern Cross.
When little bears attacked the weather station
last month, they lost all traces of the other.
For all I know, you may be the cloud outside this window,
or over the graveyard where I go for walks
with my cellphone, because the dead won’t hear me.
Once I fell into a grave, and nobody pulled me out.
You used to throw flowers on graves, tenderly recalling
the names of those you knew, buried elsewhere.
You used to milk cows, too, listening to poetry
a stranger told you, but not really listening at all.
You lived in darkness, reaching out for fireflies
as the only means of lighting your way out.
Meanwhile, they had given me stars on a plate,
and my spirit, like a plate, burned out.
Tonight two strangers sleep, separated by a Grand Canyon,
on comfy couches to the sound of apocalyptic static.
Endless poetry runs across the TV screen, and it’s all about
bees, bees, bees – plus a sweating scarecrow.
Not an eye moves. And then the blue light cuts in,
the Moon comes out with its wicked axe,
the ballroom floor is enlivened by some death metal…
I thought a lot; and when I left, it had rained.
Trafika Europe showcases new fiction and poetry from across Council of Europe, the 47 countries comprising the continent of Europe, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caspian Sea. Check out our quarterly journal free online, and enjoy with us the amazing richness and variety of European literary voices.