Watching news of the ongoing invasion of the Ukraine, where my father was born, reminds me of the fragility of the equilibrium we take for granted.

For today’s poem, I’ve selected a translation of a Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, who also lived in troubled times. It seems appropriate for all those who are standing their ground in the Ukraine. The Russian follows the English.


Lot’s Wife

And God’s luminous messenger, larger than life,
led the one righteous man along the black mountain.
But regret cried out to his wife:
“It’s not too late, you can still catch a glimpse
of Sodom, the red rooftops of home,
the square where you sang, the yard where you spun,
the tall house, its windows abandoned—
the house where your sons and daughters were born.”

She looked back—a sudden arc of pain stripped her eyes of sight,
fused her feet to the ground—
her flesh became transparent salt.

Who will mourn this nameless woman? She seems the least of all we lack.
Yet I, for one, can never forget
how she gave her life for one look back.

Anna Akhmatova, 1924

Лотова жена

И праведник шел за посланником бога, Огромный и светлый, по черной горе.
Но громко жене говорила тревога:
Не поздно, ты можешь еще посмотреть На красные башни родного Содома,
На площадь, где пела, на двор, где пряла, На окна пустые высокого дома,

Где милому мужу детей родила.

Взглянула – и, скованы смертною болью, Глаза ее больше смотреть не могли;
И сделалось тело прозрачною солью,
И быстрые ноги к земле приросли.

Кто женщину эту оплакивать будет?
Не меньшей ли мнится она из утрат?
Лишь сердце мое никогда не забудет
Отдавшую жизнь за единственный взгляд.

Translated by Meryl Natchez
Poems from the Stray Dog Cafe, 2013

Poetry Monday

StrayDog-679x1024_optThis poem, untitled when written, has since been labeled “Stalin Epigram.” Osip Mandelstam wrote it at the height of the Stalin purges, in 1933, and recited it to a literary gathering at Pasternak’s house. Someone at that gathering reported him, and he was exiled to a remote village and later arrested. He died on the way to Siberia. So in a way, this poem cost him his life.

I will read this and other poems from my new book of translations, Poems from the Stray Dog Cafe: Akhmatova, Mandelstam, and Gumilev, at University Press Books in Berkeley on Thursday, September 26 at 6 pm.

Polina Barskova will read some of the Russian.

Мы живем, под собою не чуя страны,
Наши речи за десять шагов не слышны,

А где хватит на полразговорца,
Там припомнят кремлёвского горца.

Его толстые пальцы, как черви, жирны,
А слова, как пудовые гири, верны,

Тараканьи смеются усища,
И сияют его голенища.

А вокруг него сброд тонкошеих вождей,
Он играет услугами полулюдей.

Кто свистит, кто мяучит, кто хнычет,
Он один лишь бабачит и тычет,

Как подкову, кует за указом указ:
Кому в пах, кому в лоб, кому в бровь, кому в глаз.

Что ни казнь у него – то малина
И широкая грудь осетина.
May, 1933

Stalin Epigram

We live, but cannot feel the earth,
And if we speak, we can’t be heard.

But wherever you hear a half-conversation,
They talk of that backwoods lout in the Kremlin.

Ten fat fingers like greasy worms,
Each of his words weighs fifty pounds.

His moustache bristles in cockroach laughter,
And his polished jackboots glitter.

His gang surrounds him, a spineless crew,
Half-men who do what he tells them to.

Some growl, some whimper, some yowl and hiss,
But he alone rages and bangs his fists.

Decree on decree like horseshoes fly
At groin, forehead, eyebrow, eye.

Each execution—sweet as a berry,
To this broad-chested thug from Gori.

The full press release follows…. Continue reading “Poetry Monday”

On the radio

images-1Here is a podcast from  J.P. Dancing Bear’s  radio show, FM91.5 KKUP’s “Out of Our Minds.”

Bear does a one-hour poetry radio show every Wednesday night at 8 pm. I was lucky to be his guest.

He’s a pro, and makes it flow so easily. He also has a great-looking cat.


Translation and a poetry reading

Forty-five years ago, I began translating Russian poetry. Okay, I was a strange young adult. But this year, a book of my poetry translations was finally published, Poems from the Stray Dog Cafe: Akhmatova, Mandelstam, and Gumilev. Here’s one of the poems:

StrayDog-679x1024_optНо я предупреждаю вас,
Что я живу в последний раз.
Ни ласточкой, ни кленом,
Ни тростником и ни звездой,
Ни родниковою водой,
Ни колокольным звоном –
Не буду я людей смущать
И сны чужие навещать
Неутоленным стоном

Ah, but I am warning you
This life’s the last I’m living through.
Not as a swallow, or a poplar
Not as a reed or a star,
Not as water from a well
Nor a bell’s hollow song—
I won’t return to trouble men
Or visit stranger’s dreams again
With my unquenchable lament.

Anna Akhmatova,  1940

If you like this, you can hear more at the Center for the Book in San Francisco (an interesting place to visit) this Friday, August 9, as part of a reading of Littoral Press authors:

Susan Gangel l William A. Henkin l Karen Lee Hones l Rick Kempa l Kit Kennedy Stephen Kessler l Joe Lamb l Bill Mayer l Meryl Natchez l Steven Rood

Friday, Auqgust 9, 2013 at 7 p.m.

San Francisco Center for the Book, 375 Rhode Island St. at 16th, San Francisco, 415-565-0545

Or you can buy a copy of the book (listed on page 4).