Blackbox manifold

Issue 14: Keith Sands


Cold this spring. Crimea breadless, shy.

As if Vrangel were back, guilty just like then.

Earth just stubble, patches on sackcloth,

the same sour, cantankerous smoke.

All the same it’s good, the absent-minded distance:

the trees, with buds swelling a little,

standing like newcomers, the Easter foolishness

of a decked-out almond prompting remorse.

Nature won’t know its own face,

and the terrible shades of Ukraine and Kuban –

on the matted felt of earth, hungry peasants

guard the gate, but do not touch the ring.

                                                                        summer 1933


In our sacred youth’s blood

there are pretty good songs –

like lullabies and battle-cries

against the rich man’s wrongs –

As for me, I’ve noticed

my songs are almost there:

I rock a kolkhoz cradle,

I sing the kulak’s share.

                                                                        November 1933


Tatars, Uzbeks and Nenets,

and all the Ukrainian nation,

even the Germans of the Volga

queue up for translation.

And maybe right now

I’m being put into Turkish

by some man from Japan

and he’s broken into my soul.

                                                                        November 1933



Somehow today’s yellow-beaked,

a hatchling, I can’t understand –

the gates to the sea are peering

at me, through fog and anchors.

Quietly the warships pass

through discoloured water.

Under ice the narrow pencil-case

canals stream blacker, blacker.

                                                                        December 1936


Not mine, not yours — it’s theirs,

the entire strength of gender endings:

the air is singing through their porous reed,

and gratefully the snails of human lips

will bear their breathing burden.

They have no names. If you enter their cartilage,

you will inherit their fiefdoms

For sake of people and their living hearts,

wandering the twists of sulcus and gyrus,

you’ll portray their pleasures, and what

gnaws at them, — in ebbs and tides.

                                                                        December 1936

Keith Sands spent several years living and teaching in Russia and now lives in Cambridge. Some of his previous translations from Osip Mandelstam have been published in the pamphlet 17 Voronezh Poems (Equipage) and in SNOW 1 and SNOW 2 (Allardyce, Barnett).