Friday, April 25, 2014

Utro Tumannoe - Pogudin

On a misty morning, a gray morning:
Sorrowful skies, speckled with snow.
Unwittingly, you'll remember times long past;
You'll remember faces long-forgotten, 
You'll remember faces long forgotten.

You'll remember expansive, passionate speeches. 
Glances--so gently and tenderly caught. 
The first meetings, the last meetings. 
The beloved sound of a quiet voice,
The beloved sound of a quiet voice.

You'll remember separation with a strange smile, 
You'll remember much familiar and afar. 
Listening to the chatter of clattering wheels, 
Watching, deep in thought, the wide skies,
Watching, deep in thought, the wide skies.

(my translation)

The first time I heard this song, it was a performance of Nicolai Gedda's, an actual vinyl recording. I became so fascinated--I ordered the sheet music (long-lost) and learned to play it on the piano. Pogudin creates his own magic--difficult to follow. I'd have to sing this one in a quiet closet, to the cat--who likes to hide there. 

the story-cloak

Not long ago, I climbed once again to the summit, Lucia, to make my offering, to break a great silence.

How I have yearned to be a butterfly alighting on your hand, a flash of Cinquefoil in your eyes, the vanishing of a fox's tail at the edge of a wooded copse. But alas. My steps were ponderous, as if my feet had clotted into earthen clods and they wanted, stubbornly, to cling, first to the thickets, and the meadow, and then to the lichen-spattered rocks above.

When I neared the trickling spring and knelt in the moss, I realized I had forgotten all of my prayers, and the only song I had left was, There is a balm in Gilead. I wept, for I held in my pockets no great love story, no pearl, nor any other bright treasure to gladden your eyes. I leaned my empty head into my hollow hands, and sobbed until I slept.

I woke with a start--a great white owl was regarding me quizzically, its head in a half-twist, from a perch on a mound of lingon-berry bushes. You are holding my moon-egg, reached my senses. In my hands was cradled a rounded phosphorescence. I held it out to the owl, wonderingly. Look at your cloak, said the owl. With not a sound, nor even a flutter, an enormous, transparent cloak had began settling itself around my shoulders. Wherever it touched me, I was alarmed, at first, but its weight reassured me, as if an unexpected embrace.

For a moment, I glimpsed the traceries of vines and flowers, of fractal patterns, uzori--surrounding and descending upon me. It seemed as if within the patterns was hidden a code, a key to a language in which all of my life-stories were written, all the strange blossoms of my dearest and hidden desires, my most harrowing sorrows, and bitterest sins. Its colors were beloved and familiar: the flaming red of a dogwood branch; the green of the first sticky leaves; a morning-glory blue, the silvery gray of a trout stream. In a matter of a blink, I lost sight of the cloak, yet continued to feel its presence.

After time passed, or did not, I noticed the owl beckoning to another figure in the moss; if I had squinted, I might have confirmed the presence of a man.

Sensing it was time for me to depart, I bowed my thanks and turned back to the path down the mountain. From the corner of my eye, I spied the man thirstily sipping moon-beams from his own palms. I will say no more of this matter, Lucia. Perhaps a similar cloak has found its way to him.

The shawl of mists in which I was then enveloped has now become my constant companion, but my steps have grown lighter--a mystery of solitude and flame.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Leaves before the Wind (May Sarton)

We have walked, looked at the actual trees:
The chestnut leaves wide-open like a hand,
The beech leaves bronzing under every breeze,
We have felt flowing through our knees
As if we were the wind.

We have sat silent when two horses came,
Jangling their harness, to mow the long grass.
We have sat long and never found a name
For this suspension in the heart of flame
That does not pass.

We have said nothing; we have parted often,
Not looking back, as if departure took
An absolute of will--once not again
(But this is each day's feat, as when
The heart first shook).

Where fervor opens every instant so,
There is no instant that is not a curve,
And we are always coming as we go;
We lean toward the meeting that will show
Love's very nerve.

And so exposed (O leaves before the wind!)
We bear this flowing fire, forever free,
And learn through devious paths to find
The whole, the center, and perhaps unbind
The mystery.

Where there are no roots, only fervent leaves,
Nourished on meditations and the air,
Where all that comes is also all that leaves,
And every hope compassionately lives
Close to despair. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Night (Valery, Konstantin Meladze, Dialog), 1991

This song was written by Konstantin Meladze and was performed by his brother Valery with the group Dialog in 1991, before they both became big-time celebrities. Valery's voice rang out like a crystal bell; his brother's vision, even clearer. What a turbulent time to wrestle one's self into a career.

It's not yet the last leg of twilight
the last nightingales have not scattered
near your bed vaguely hangs
the rosy foam of the hawthorn

Sleep, as if on stage, in your own meadow,
sleep; this night is shorter than your love
sleep in a tale for children in the shell of night
without a name in the forest of remembrance

Sleep, this night is shorter than your love... (4x)

Until, like a railway trestle laid down,
as if a suicide on wheels, my life
along the black ripple of Plyos*                             * a city and railway station
is flying headlong, an immutable road

Sleep, this night is shorter than your love
sleep tonight
sleep tonight

So it is that when I became myself
and whichever day, every day became dearer
every night became dedicated strictly--
holding my own court impatiently with fate


I'm listening to this song after having a dream that a tall Scottish police inspector from a BBC series told me strictly, scoldingly, to stop working so much because we were engaged, and then Konstantin Meladze was taking photos of me with a group near the sea. Then a gigantic wave appeared and we were all submerged. At first we were all laughing, but I noticed a boy named Alyosha was lost, and I kept calling his name, "Alyosha, Alyosha!", and began combing through the water to find him and save him or shake him awake--and then I woke up.


I deleted this post, but then decided to toss it back out there. Who knows, perhaps there are others out there who have similar thoughts, or have identified with the sense of feeling foreign. Everywhere.

How many of us feel as if we are outsiders/strangers/foreigners most of the time, even in--or especially in our hometowns? There are times when even familiar blades of grass are nearly too sharp for me to bear, and I wonder--how they feel about me.

Musicians appear to be able to bridge the formidable, visible and invisible gaps between cultures and individuals.

Take Valery Meladze. He is a Georgian by nationality, who has variously considered the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia his home. After several decades of constant performing, he's become a staple on the Moscow cultural scene, as ubiquitous as black bread.

Valery Meladze and his brother Konstantin seem to possess some magical formula--the ability to create lyrics, music and a stage presence that unites their listeners.

Here, in  this song, Foreigner, Valery sings: "I am everywhere a foreigner, yet I belong everywhere..." This reminds me of the fact that, near the beginning of their careers, the brothers were advised to change their last name to a more Russian-sounding one, but they weren't interested in this....

Yes, if I were among the adoring female fans in a crowd at one of his concerts, I might look for and recognize the sad glimmer in his eyes before Valery begins singing, the glance of one not-quite-belonging-anywhere, who belts his heart out.

But Konstantin, his brother the poet/composer/producer is the real resident alien genius of the two. If I could just be a moth on the wall watching him compose....

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Yarrow stalks in the thaw
seem the ghosts of all flowers;
brittle lace skeletons
a thousand warriors deep.

I'm treading on the toes
of Mount Magnificent.
A rock face glimpses mine
from around a corner.

Here will appear blue poppies
and there is the bend where
a boy once barked at dogs;
my greatest fears passed there.

I will cut off his hands
if he does not start to speak.
Crushed brains smell of walnuts.
I could break your arm now.

The light softens and lingers,
spreading to the ocean.
Are we home? I ask of
yarrow stalks in the thaw.

Cold tears drip from the clouds
onto blackcurrant buds.
This is our home for now,
its heart, broken--like ours.

Monday, April 21, 2014


If I had been performing similar work a century ago, I might have been occupied by the carving of detailed entries, in India ink, into an enormous ledger with a worn fountain-pen, laboring over each, and wondering at how my handwriting resembled copperplate in the morning, but approached the scratch of a hen by evening.

As it is, these fingers, once trained in nimbleness by Solfeggietto, shuffle listlessly by the end of the day across a bad-tempered keyboard, and then eventually cease their clatter. A blessed silence peers from between the petals of sunset.

I glance at the shelf, and touch a single feather, a gift of Finist, my bright falcon, with a sigh. I cannot say whether or not it will be granted to me to ever see him again.

Between shifts, his sisters visit me, zari-zarya, lights emanating not from dawn, nor from twilight, but from some other place and age: Eden's Alkonost, singing sweetly, she who draws a rosy veil around our wounds, mending them while we sleep; and Sirin, who flew out of Paradise, but has lost her way and is now nesting in a poplar tree nearby. It is the breath of music in Sirin's song of sadness that is most intoxicating of all--while I hearken, my shoulders, torso and palms burn and ache--from the gradual, inevitable emergence of an invisible plumage.

In fact, if I were released from my leaden chains for longer than each evening, or on the weekends, my mind might fill with such wine, I would not be able to bear the confines of my house--then I'd slide open an upstairs window--and--a hatchling passerine--slip out forevermore, into another and deeper vintage, the laughter of the wind.

Anastasia Grigorieva, Sirin

for my grandmother, on Pascha

Through the veil of departure,
in the last bells of evening,
I listen to the West wind
for the echo of your voice:

Take light from the light, my dear--
I can nearly feel the flame
of your smile, while nestling
carnations in a green vase.

Time is a crushed laurel leaf,
between the bitter and sweet.
Tears bubble to the surface,
passing memories of you...

Once, when we rode on the train
over the Nenana gorge,
cottonwood seeds were snowflakes
mocking the green of July.

Ruth McLean, farmer's daughter,
wistful lover of mountains,
in your arms was a homeland--
I dance this kolo for you--

Soviet Cartoons were sometimes just so wrong...

...they were awesome.

My daughter reminded me of this one last night. Here, the Italian mafiozo "bandito" song from Capitan Vrungel, with English subtitles. Sort of.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Japanese Archery (Aleksandr Wat)

The hand tells the bowstring:
    Obey me.
The bowstring answers the hand:
    Draw Valiantly.
The bowstring tells the arrow:
    O arrow, fly.
The arrow answers the bowstring:
    Speed my flight.
The arrow tells the target:
    Be my light.
The target answers the arrow:
    Love me. 
The target tells arrow, bowstring, hand and eye:
    Ta twam asi.
Which means in a sacred tongue:
    I am Thou.
(Footnote of a Christian:
O Mother of God,
watch over the target, the bow, the arrow
and the archer).
—Translated by Richard Lourie

An Apple-Tree at a Stream, Maksymilian Gierymski, 1868

the song of a shell sapphire melting inside jade a color unnamed Ofra Haza's version of this song defies categoriz...

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