“A second Christmas by the shore…”

mosaic2

FOR E. R.

A second Christmas by the shore
of Pontus, which remains unfrozen.
The Star of Kings above the sharp horizon
of harbor walls. And I can’t say for sure
that I can’t live without you. As
this paper proves, I do exist: I’m living
enough to gulp my beer, to soil the leaves, and
trample the grass.

Retreating south before winter’s assault,
I sit in that café from which we two were
exploded soundlessly into the future
according to the unrelenting law
that happiness can’t last. My finger tries
your face on poor man’s marble. In the distance,
brocaded nymphs leap through their jerky dances,
flaunting their thighs.

Just what, you gods — if this dilating blot,
glimpsed through a murky window, symbolizes
your selves now — were you trying to advise us?
The future has arrived and it is not
unbearable. Things fall, the fiddler goes,
the music ebbs, and deepening creases
spread over the sea’s surface and men’s faces.
But no wind blows.

Someday the slowly rising breakers, but,
alas, not we, will sweep across this railing,
crest overhead, crush helpless screams, and roll in
to find the spot where you drank wine, took cat-
naps, spreading to the sun your wet
thin blouse — to batter benches, splinter boardwalks,
and build for future molluscs
a silted bed.

YALTA, JANUARY 1971
–Joseph Brodsky, Nativity Poems, trans. by Melissa Green et al. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2001

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