Two Poems

The Russian Senior Building. Newark, NJ

 

       Those who are younger-younger play their bingo,
those older-older dance their tango,
while the tan hallway rolls its carpet toward
the elevator with no final flight.

       Stop – those revolving won’t all stop together
as they would want. As we would, I gather.
But – look: no, seriously, I’m no coward –
I just can’t stand fluorescent light.

       All talking – stop! We just repeat verbatim.
(Remember – soul? Sounds like Art Tatum).
These hawks are going vegan
and their descent is slow.

       I love them all, look up at them, unfolding
their otherworldly plumage, wings of matchless molding –
in sunset dust when feathers – stiff, unyielding –
lisp listlessly.

       The 40-watt bulb swings – a hallway prefect –
while present turns into past perfect,
and perfect weather rolls, unopened, westward,
to that shining, shining clasp.

 

 

Mercury

For Carol Frost

So clearly they flow,
       endlessly –
the diamond days of flu,
a caravan –

and I am ten – or nine? –  Celsius, and they flow like
other people’s windows flow
for a pedestrian whose shoes and  soles  are way too thin for Moscow winter nights.
       I see them, facets of fever.

No school today, I am sick,
at home with grandma,
she’s playing pots and pans there, one empty continent,
       one floating room away.

Diamonds – sunset procession on the wall,
as if someone has changed the wallpaper – in a never ending
pattern, flow onto the floor – mosaic of rectangles – warm,
       dusty – just a forearm away,

and on the floor – a tray with tea,
a copy of Bleak House, where things are going wrong.
Then – ice-cold Celsius in my hot hand,
       thin silver thread inside:

turn this way  – shines, turn that way – disappears…
Ah, I’ve dropped… it – tiny shiny balls rush away – they hide
in crevices between the parquet blocks…
       I try to catch them – no,

they join the old ones from the thermometer
I dropped when I was eight –
they run away, collide, and break into small groups,
       like characters in Dickens

or,  rather like those evening  TV spies  —
Americans or Germans, quick to leave  — one spy after another – then
meet in London (which almost looks like London), and outwit
       all but that alluring actor – my parents know his name

— an open Slavic face –
quick silver – Soviet spy –
they’ll never get him.

 

 

 

 

 

Irina Mashinski is the author of nine books of poetry and translations (in Russian). Her first English-language collection, The Naked World, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil. She is co-editor, with Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk, of The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry (Penguin Classics, 2015), and co-founder (with the late Oleg Woolf) and editor-in-chief of the StoSvet literary project, which includes the Cardinal Points Journal, published under the auspices of the Slavic Department of Brown University and dedicated largely to Russian and Eastern European literatures (in English), and the Storony Sveta journal (in Russian). She received First Prizes in the Russian America (2001) and Maximilian Voloshin (2003) poetry competitions, and, with Boris Dralyuk, First Prize in the 2012 Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Translation Prize competition. In 2016, she won the Hawthornden Fellowship. Irina Mashinski holds a PhD in paleoclimatology from Moscow University. She came to the US in 1991 and now lives between New Jersey and the Poconos and works as a tutor, teaching Mathematics and other subjects.

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