While I Wrote This a Battering Ram of Knives Excavated Old Wounds -- The Poem Attacking Stalin

(Osip)

Original Text: 

Surviving the Censor: The Unspoken Words of Osip Mandelstam, ed. Allan Briesmaster (Hamilton, Ontario: Seraphim Editions, 2006): 23-24.

2placed it there. Perhaps it entered me the way the north
3wind enters a woman’s dress knocking loudly on her
4knees, making her head turn and her face flush before
5freezing the flesh of her thighs. Sometimes I think it
6sank into me when my birth water was washed away. It
7doesn’t matter how it arrived. It’s here and insists on
8going for long walks to take the night air.
9Once and only once the days were little finger bells that
10sounded so nicely. Then the dancing stopped, the band
11shell collapsed, and now there is only the air playing
12single notes on a rasping lung. This does not matter to
13you, BUT (finally that word appears like a mountain
14cutting off the view of the valley I loved to look at) the
15hour hand has hypnotized your days and meaningless
16motions fill your life. And this thing inside me wants to
17waken you. It is as if the forests were on fire and the
18squirrels and earthworms adjourned their meetings and
19the wild flowers with no next of kin perished. Now
20people pretend that the pinks and the purples that
21coloured the hills never existed, maybe they saw
22something else. A white sheet at midnight can be
23mistaken for a ghost or so I have been told.
24Pay attention to what I am about to say. What is deep
25inside me moves away from the darkness, the lily pads,
26the tiny fish and the coral reef where it breathes and
27bathes, multiplies and manipulates the light into red
28and yellow streamers. And just as it is blindfolded and
29the final commands are given, it speaks because it
30cannot be silenced the way a volcano sitting still for
31years suddenly shakes and pulls open its lower lip
32spilling knowledge over the world. (After this there
33are always tears, destroyed thoughts, uninhabitable
34ideologies and the smell of smoke reminds us that
35Truth is forever burning.)
36And what bubbles from within me fills broken boxcars,
37becomes fruit in a petrified forest or finds its way to a
38dying river that lives on in the memory of spring, the
39smell of muck and weeds that once filled its empty
40belly.

Notes

1] The Poem Attacking Stalin: Joseph Stalin's government arrested Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (1891-1938), a Russian poet, during the 1930s and exiled him and his wife Nadezhdato Cherdyn in the Northern Ural, in effect for daring to write a poemcritical of Stalin. The "Stalin Epigram", composed in 1933, was a critique of "Kremlin mountaineer." Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2012
Form: 
Special Copyright: 

Copyright © Rafi Aaron 2006. Published by permission of the poet and Seraphim Editions.