The Jordan River and other poems

Transitions №4

Author: Irina Mashinski

Translated by Maria Bloshteyn


The Jordan River

Up to my shins in muddy Jordan, yellow like Yangtse
I’m standing at the border, at the boundary.

The crowds pour into the souvenir stall,
the river flows south in a loamy sprawl.

Pilgrims from a country that’s no more,
in dripping “I [heart] Jordan” t-shirts sing on the shore.

I see you in the reeds, smoking your pipe, eyeing the scene –
how righteously Russian, how keenly they sing! –

glancing at the pilgrim busses, their melting rubber,
or down at a stem where a mendicant spider

crawls home, like in Uglich, and the skies’ coal smolders
just like night coals glow on your milk-white shoulder

in the backwoods, our roof soaked by the rain
on those easy days when you’re alive again.

Then you look back laughing – a lightening bolt,
and, a pillar of loamy tears, I say, stop.


The Worm and the Cinder


Life is what fits within the worm
right now
and its length is the length of the worm
right now,

everything that pushes within him toward the exit
in the dusk on the jagged
edge between asphalt and earth, grass –
contracting, expanding into a long j,
while he is crawling together with the consumed,
the gravel and glass
his delicate esophagus,
      not allowing
the swallowed to clump
into a single grain.

Sharp pebbles, all the primaeval gravel
of the happened
stirring the insides,
the ashes,
igniting then letting
cool down again and again,

— behind him stretches
a scarlet streamlet, steaming,
rhythmically thickening,
branching out in veins,
dragging within him, and then after him
in the loam,
dredged in fine pale dust,
like a stretched-out grocery bag –
heaviness itself

Trailing above him
the small scurf flakes
fanning out from a jet,
below –
trail, red in the ash.

Pain is unknown to him –
he would still crawl, had he known
its signals.
Cut him, hack him in two,
– he will still live the half as a whole,
aware of his former length.

The future enters his mouth
with the grass, humus,
bits of thin torn roots,
alfalfa clumps

and there
passes through the rings of his hearts
                            — there my heart turned to wax,
melted within my innards

everything, everything through the wriggling worm
entering in, exiting out,
without being digested, as it was, as it is,
consumed chaos
remains:  the exterior substance
chopped by his groundgrinder –
the past,

he extracts
only that which he eats.

He doesn’t have moods, only
that which enters his eyes,
he breathes with his skin, as is natural for him,
and pours out like water
on the pale trail
of the cooling-off loam.

A worm has eyes.
Deep in the dusk,
practically in the dark,
at the right of the turn,
on the slope
over the road —
stands a house with a burning-cinder window

severs the now from the now
on the curve
of the path
brighter toward nightfall,
where the jagged, pinesap-edged
cooling-down asphalt ended.



Returning in the twilight,
practically in the dark,
up the roadside, along the left edge
between the asphalt and old grass,
and then suddenly at the curve,
on the hill on the right –
a house
the lit window
amid the dark trees,
smouldering, almost crumbling
into the barely lit yard –
a cinder –
scarlet with warm pale ash –
the innards of a house
where the worm is fed
moist newspapers
a wet mix
of important local news.

Then, beneath her jacket
suddenly shudders
that darkest, that dampest of days,

and above it
crawling back
compressing and expanding
the arch
        of primordial trees,
        a bag of leaves walks
its birthed chaos,
the flint
of twilight
by sharp quills.


The Worm and the Box

Suddenly at the curve,
on the slope –
with its lit
among the dark trees –
a cinder,
scarlet with pale ash –
smouldering, almost crumbling
into the barely lit yard,
the innards of a house
where the worm is fed
moist newspapers
a wet mix
of important local news.

Coming down the hill, she returns to her own home,
where the newspapers are dry,
she crams them into the cast-iron woodstove, and for the umpteenth
time takes out the full ash pan
with the jutting out unconsumed sticks
          the stems and leaves that have already
              turned peridot

   to that
completely empty
parking lot
of the darkening town, its only traffic light stuck on green –
from the long one-storey building that looks
like a closed empty shoe box,
carefully carries to the car, parked right at the edge,
                          beside the messy border of the living grass,
a cardboard box,
that was handed over to her
in a purple recycled bag with their logo,
afraid to drop
the heavy human ashes


A Trace

Tout l’automne à la fin n’est plus qu’une tisane froide.
Francis Ponge


A trace
on the giant empty parking lot of a mall
closed on Sundays.
A ruptured outline of a petrol lake-ink spot –
violet, apricot
on the asphalt coarse-grained signet,
memory’s ebb and flow – a trace
of the hot rhythmic object, its belly,
its jointed axels –
a stain in flux.

Memory, its muck enters the pitted asphalt
spends itself, melts

the trail
all its hopeless joy.



A trace,
oozes out of a thing’s narrow bottleneck, loses
its form, stopped by the friction
of knowing
spends all of itself, shrinks along the edges.

That’s how the outline ruptures,
losing the apricot smell of its rainbow
crumpled memory.

The gaze
left by a thing,
dissolves itself in the ground, plaiting the grass –
and the grass pushes through it,
the grass covers, transmutes it,
the trace of a thing, its makeup, its form,

a thing
spends, spills itself fully,
falling behind.


Geomorphology of a Hole

Grief wrenched out
by the roots
left behind a hollow,
a paleohole,
a void,

a passing ant slides down its slope
a passing downpour soaks the humus
and sprouts at once
with the still cryptic roots
their tangle –
mosses, then grass.

That’s how life begins –
gains a foothold on this cavity-planet
covers the slope
as if with real greenness.

The ashen soil crumbles, turns to dust –
and just as it appears
a strong wind blows the ashlike continent away.

But for a long time yet, the roots
and the stout fresh stems of the half-empty
their hollow fifes
hold back the shape.

That’s how the hole matures
moss pleurae
toil, pumping oxygen –
they can’t not pump,

and moss darkens, first by blotches, then by steps,
a semblance of time,
uneven emerald
and jade –

the mosses and the lichens lighter than wormwood,
drenched by moonlight
they must continue being.

Following them
come grasses –
sage and sedge –
untidy happiness here and there
in clumps and tufts,
march in, with their samurai hairdos,
and firmly hold on to
the cooled off
                crumbling slope.

Then a moon ray
seeks out the crater – it turns white with grass,
      reflecting the reflection.