The Act of Darkness

By POLINA BARSKOVA 

 

The dark-winged prostitutes at the bus station in Boston

Look like pleasure boats or better sharp-breasted bathing beauties

At full sail on the waters of Saint-Malo

 

But this analogy like cheap shorts is too tight

And chafes your thighs

 

I wander among these vessels of belligerent desire

Knock-off chalices of spleen

Ruins heaped gravel of vacant lots

Black galleys of quick relief

Absolutely exposed closed transparent grim

 

I wander like a monkey in the garden of paradise

Like a cheerful bright scratch across rotting flesh

Like a dollar spit out on the ground by an ATM

Slot for various wondrous transactions.

 

I’m back from a gathering of damp enormous acacias

And souls like them—black autumnal and naked

I walk smiling smoking sorting through verbs

 

My verb for you is “leave”

The more sweetly urgently

The more steeply tenderly space spreads out between us

My verb is “remove” “reject” and with just a trace of sound

“Affirm” how black how damp how immense our parting is

How forgetting is twisted bent like a marvelous spine

 

I walk smiling and you’re invisibly with me

Namely in the dog position of Orpheus-Eurydice meaning

I can’t turn around

Or else: one second—

An explosion then blindness and a gap where the loved body was.

 

The punishment doesn’t fit the misstep.

I only wanted

To watch to hear your voice lying between us like a gorgeous whore

Against the sunset’s brew framed by the window

Smiling gleaming like a baudelairean ebony back

Your voice standing in front of me like an explosion or the sun.

 

You understand—but too late.

Again you understand—too soon.

Overpowering the glowing shithole

Where clots of memory swarm. Nothing about this is clear.

You understand and smoke and think: well, it’s amusing.

 

A bus station prostitute tips her lighter to my face

This night this scene with its simplistic pathetic

Stage set belongs to me like nothing else

Except perhaps your wind-up steel heart

 

Translated by Catherine Ciepiela

Polina Barskova comes from Saint Petersburg and is the author of eight books of poems that have garnered national awards in Russia. Two collections of her poetry, in English translations, appeared recently: This Lamentable City and The Zoo in Winter. She teaches Russian literature at Hampshire College and lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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