Friday, May 09, 2014



Irina Bogushevkskaya  is a former philosophy major who became a singer/songwriter.

The Crane Song

Zina tilted her head and flashed her trademark smile, the same smile that, in the days when her hair was peroxide blonde instead of snowy-white, had made her an indispensable asset to the Musical Theater of Magadan.  Those turquoise eyes, which had also starred in many a show, winked quizzically at me. I stared at the pile of navy blue jumpsuits jumbled in Zina's lap.

"Those are the costumes for our concert. I need to alter so many of them for our big round ladies to wear, you wouldn't believe how much work it is!" her fingers slid rapidly along a hem, armed with a seam-ripper. "Well, my little zaika, I have your tickets." and she held out an envelope. I took it and laid a similar envelope, in exchange, on Zina's dining table. "Thank you so much, darling," gushed Zina, "Now it would make me REALLY happy if you would join my little choir, but I can't ever seem to convince you."

I stood, hesitating. "Zina," I wondered, "Could you tell me, what is your favorite part of the concert, which song should I be listening for?"

"Oh," bustled Zina, "You know, our goal was to create a memorial concert for the veterans of all wars, to honor their service. We are having the usual spats and conflicts, and some of the pieces aren't turning out how I'd like them to, but DO listen to Leonia's song about white cranes. He's my new protege, I just bought him a lovely black suit for his next concert at the Salvation Army for seven dollars, and I'm quite satisfied with how he looks. When you hear the song, you'll KNOW."

When I took my place in the audience, I noticed representatives of all armed forces were scattered throughout the audience. Because of the chill in the air, I was glad of the wool shawl wrapped around my shoulders. A tiny, but formidable sergeant in an American Army uniform announced that she was the emcee of the concert. The familiar faces of Zina's choir appeared on the stage, but in much drabber garb than unusual--the ill-fitting navy jumpsuits hinted at humility. They sang in English, Russian, and French, pouring out their voices as gifts, to the boys who had never come home, to the boys who had returned long ago but now sat in the audience, nodding their silver heads; and to the young men and women who sat stiffly in rows of folding chairs, some who would most likely return, quite soon, to a conflict zone.

After several songs, most of the singers filed off the stage, leaving a single tall, gangly, dark-haired youth, who shrugged his shoulders as if to throw off an invisible weight, and lifted the microphone to his lips. He began to sing, in a voice that lilted and pleaded, whispered and conjured, leading the audience into the forests of Eastern Europe during the time of World War II. Behind his head, a slide show flickered, with images of fighter pilots, explosions, burning cities, and trees.

The slides of the trees blinked me back to the day I answered the door at the television studio in Moscow, and listened to a grey-haired man trying to tell a story about the forests of Belarus. He held out sheaf after sheaf of documents, and showed me detailed maps of what he claimed were burial sites. I attempted in vain to get the attention of the journalists at the station; they were too busy, at the time, covering the disintegration of the Soviet Union to be interested in the maps of mass graves, deep in the woods. The man returned repeatedly to the studio, hoping to get an audience, and again and again he was told that no one was interested. Music and memory mixed in my mind.


"He can't read a single note of music, you know," Tanya, at my left, elbowed me back to the present.

Leonia's voice carried across the hall with a singular quality that none of the other singers possessed, a clean and clear awareness of itself as an entity, an instrument; it spoke as one of the unnamed lost, or as a partisan, a mother, a wife waiting for her beloved, it became any soldier on any side of the great war. His voice approached an exquisitely anguished vibrato,and in that tremulous moment, the whole hall was as if one body with tears in its eyes, one soul rising as a white crane into the mist.



(My apologies to those who have read my blog posts already. This one was posted originally in 2008. And here is the song Leonia sang.)

Tracy Chapman & Natalie Merchant - Where the soul never dies



I love this song, but could only find a fragment online.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Sun - Cselaw Milosz

The Sun

All colors come from the sun. And it does not have
Any particular color, for it contains them all.
And the whole earth is like a poem
While the sun above represents the artist.

Whoever wants to paint the variegated world
Let him never look straight up at the sun
Or he will lose the memory of things he has seen.
Only burning tears will stay in his eyes.

Let him kneel down, lower his face to the grass,
And look at light reflected by the ground.
There he will find everything we have lost:
The stars and the roses, the dusks and the dawns.

Warsaw, 1943


Wednesday, May 07, 2014

White Cranes - May 9 - Pogudin



Oleg Pogudin, singing the song, White Cranes. May 9 was traditionally known as Victory Day (commemorating the end of the second world war) in the former Soviet republics.

What I like about this song is that it creates a respectful pause within which one can mourn the losses of war; an atmosphere of reverence.

A link to the lyrics.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Before. There is always before.
There is after. This, we become.
But the mind can play tricks.
It creates a blank space here.

Memory may say: this, then this.
But where do the lost selves go?
Are they caught between centuries?
Does their vision mirror our dreams?

As a child, I would pretend blindness,
To teach my fingers how to see.
As long as water remained, and earth,
I held hope as a seed in my hand.



Monday, May 05, 2014

Princess Mononoke





The best of the synthesis of legends and music that comprises Japanese Anime, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki; soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi (Mamoru Fujisawa). 

Even as his body and spirit are being corroded by his contact with a demon, Ashitaka mediates between humans and the Forest Spirit. Princess Mononoke, who was raised by wolves in a dwindling forest, does not trust Ashitaka at first.



In the end, after much conflict and sacrifice, Ashitaka (and the forest) are healed.



Sunday, May 04, 2014

Spectral Lyre - A Launching

“Only in the beauty created
by others is there consolation…” (Adam Zagajewski)

Announcing the launch of Spectral Lyre.



The idea for this online journal grew out of a months-long email engagement between friends with the poetry of Adam Zagajewski.

Occasionally, one will come across a poem in which the poet has become language itself and is speaking a quality of time’s mystique. Such poems hold a paradoxical, ambivalent tension between joy and melancholy. We prefer that kind of poem, where the poet almost disappears during the transformation of experience into the substance of written art, into the texture of an almost musical truth. Oftener than not, those poems are strangely coherent and hospitable — the reader requires no secret code or sticks of dynamite to uncover a sense of what’s being said, what’s being meant.

Eventually, we plan to publish a quarterly journal, dedicated to poetry, essay, and other art forms. For now, this blog is our gradual heralding of the later magazine. Spectral Lyre blog will familiarize you with our general vision: poetry and other forms of expression as primarily aesthetic and metaphysical happenings.

Besides eventually publishing new poems, we will bring to fresh light older poems by master poets. Other kinds of masterful work will complement our emphasis on poetry — the visual arts, music, and prose. We’re also keenly interested in translation.

En plein air - in memoriam Andrew Bellon

A dreamless sleep falls from the shimmering leaves. --Sappho fragment, tr. Andrew Bellon I changed, thickened, ...

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