Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sergey Gandlevsky's "Hundreds of tons of combat iron..."

Sergey Gandlevsky, voted in a 2001 critics poll as the "most important living Russian poet," always saw poetry as a way to resist the pervasive and invasive politics of the Soviet Union. Most of his poems, collected in A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky, sing underground life in a slangy vernacular melded with a classical Russian poetic formalism. Yet, at least in this poem from 1974, first published in Asheville Review, Gandlevsky confronts directly the massive militarism of the Soviet Union.

"Hundreds of tons of combat iron..."

Hundreds of tons of combat iron
Amassed under Kremlin walls.
Their din had no mercy on silence.
The trembling earth tickled our soles.

That night, on the eve of the parade
It took us an hour to hail a taxi.
On the eve of a strange ceremony,
Not long before private melancholy.

In that distorted silence,
Streets deserted as if at curfew,
Midnight tossed together
Everything strange and dear to me.

Failure often has two faces.
From troubles that make the heart go cold
We leave with a pained smile,
Our eyes as wide as saucers.

But the hellish heat of battle
Leaves so many thousands in coffins,
They return with the taste of ash
On lips constricted with silence.

My mother gave birth to a child,
Not to a puppet in roaring armor.
Don't torment my eardrums.
Let me say just one word.

Asphalt quaking underfoot,
Tanks headed to the Kremlin wall.
Hello, my dear grief,
A handful of life in an iron country!



runnerfrog said...

grief, a handful of life. how powerful confrontation to death.

Philip Metres said...

Runnerfrog, thanks for reading! I think I'm going to start compiling an anthology for such poems... Phil