Introduction and other poems

Transitions №5

Author: Vladimir Gandelsman

Translated by Anna Halberstadt



It’s because I am mortal. And sane.
And souls sway in the dark,
their numbers immense.
It’s because my mind goes blank at once.
What will satisfy its hunger– just by saying
I am not heartless, if the mind remains in ruins,–
will these raindrops, or a honeycomb exuding light?
This Sun, that flies from East to West,
burning away like an insomniac?
What will verify, that rain is rain,
if my brain shivers and scatters?


There a word, split and amnesiac, that used to be a Word,
goes mad and calls that, what it barely recalls, a celestial catch.

This bush is for an infant’s mouth. For infant’s eyes.
Before the coming of Redeemer. Before he saved us.
There is Earth before it was named Earth, before the naming,
where I was wasted on myself,  and will be wasted on gaping.
There is a child’s labor of naming for the first time.

Who created them, where are they led, who are they?

Doubting myself, lifting my hands to my eyes,
I look at the person, who is I:
fingers have length, at the base of each a boulder,
nails, on each – a country of the rising Sun,
blue color wanders in the veins.

How would I see myself after  the death of me,
even if the soul ascends?

No later, than tonight?

Neglected darkness will thicken,
squeezing through the window, spinning the curtain,
rustling the papers, scaring the baby, breathing on it.
The child will move his lips.
A red lacquered ball– here, on the floor, it spins.

And spouses, unglued, lie, no longer on fire, and in a corner a jacket embraces the back of a chair, and a buttered fork lies on the table, and neglected sounds and darkness fly down on the table and wooden fights of branches grow in the room,
as if it were a garden. 

And a bottle of wine – a collision of luminous liquids and revolving spheres,
and the girlfriend is drunk, and this wind, in a way, is beneficial for her, say,
pushing her into my embrace.
The country will fall askew with its interior soldered inside.
Here is clever happiness of the insane, intoxication of youth, and an inhale needed to get to the bottom.

A lonely woman is sleeping half-asleep. If one were to take apart the house,
then a pillow would be hanging a little below the factory chimney, a little above the gutter. The down in the pillow will freeze. A citizen of the empire asleep,
sleeps, getting stiff, curled into a pretzel. You better close this landscape.

Night of the tree, convict of its roots, throws out black-suited horses, running in different directions on the pavement.
Night of the river, rummaging around, batteries gone dark, herds under the bridge flocks of golden-fleeced lights.
Night of the kiosk, in which the kiosk operator’s soul yellows.
Night of  the hat on the mannequin’s head.
Night of everything instant.

Let us live through the night, like beggars live. Aren’t these ashes–
not an exact place for a refuge?  What would be tragedy’s worth,
if not for a jester, banging on the base?

That’s why you seek the space behind the object, even an animate
one,– to be a beggar.
Once you pass it by, there is no attachment left for it.
After you survive two deaths – his, and in his, your own,
don’t return the earthly look of the one conquered, like Euridyce.
For werewolves this quantity is dead.
Only you come into possession of it, after going through it, your boundaries are    not where they beg together or apart, but where one begs in abject poverty.

There they part, testing nerves to the point they tear, choosing hatred as one’s duty for simplicity, here a woman screams from the emptiness or years ahead.
A saddest melody,
and don’t expect a sadder one ahead.

An old woman’s hands, and a small crystal glass, and a few drops of motherwort, and anxiety about life just about to stop abruptly, but still, happily, being given drop by drop, and sucking on a tasty cookie is fun.  And moths’ wings fly out of the closet, spreading mothball smell.

A whale goes down to enormous depth, Leviathan’s soul is dropped down into the
thickness of the ocean like a drop of ink, his midnight soul does not fall asleep.
He is as merged with general content, as his form is lonely in the world, and, as his intuition tells him,–  he leaves, circumflecting the continent from the East.

And in the sea towers patience of a cliff, attacked by such unbelievable sea wind, that you can hear angels sing.

And mind resists, fighting darkness. But immediately, singled out from chaos by
awareness, it wants to escape being and return to gaping, similar to the sky, when   it approaches winter. 
A miserable convict in the solitary jail of its passions, it is torn apart by fears, love, remorse, and it does not have a choice – but to accept dying of everything it hears, accept it with clarity of mind.



So many dark quiet crannies
in the rooms, where in the corners
conscience accumulated, and so many
crazies had been over the years
saving all kinds of junk
or spiders and word-eating beetles,
prodigal sons or daughters,
in quiet narrow crannies,
you, return, scatter the ashes,
I know a wise man’s heart
is in the house of sorrow,
but to burry everyone takes
as much grief, as  there is joy
in our mornings– there is no way
to forget one another,
no way to scatter, that’s why conscience
wanders around us,
so that we could pay for the insane whisper of love:
this is , what God is – your face and voice.

(from the 1991 diary)



A man needs only a room
a room and a bed
not to rush from a city
to a city, not to spend nights
in a railroad station, not to freeze.

A man needs only a room
to say nightly and daily prayers
for oneself and for someone still loved,
so that feelings would hover
above him in their might, like icons.

A man needs a room
and a life, lived badly,
with hatred, suffocating experience
of treachery, cowardice, dirt
of vulgar whisper in his ear,

so that his heart breaks, then grows strong
and turns into a cliff, its memory
does not resurrect loved ones from ashes,
not knowing how to fall, nor how to get up,
only how to stand there blindly.



I will turn the corner – as this text,
then will go further down the street,
that’s my response to despair’s prick,
but not a thing will reflect on my face.

Time will eventually flush me out,
but the text will stare at the sky,
and it will erase my tear’s trace,
and, bright, it will keep winding in the wind.

It stops by the seafood shop,
where a crab climbs the aquarium,
with an armband on its claw, and in another window
you see a moody clerk, who looks like him.

And further down, a beggar, or, to be precise, a lump
of rags sleeps on the ground, protected by no one,
a newborn corpse,
and dazed leaves rustle over him.

Life, forgetful, burns itself down,
to support existence,
and only a suede bookmark of the dream
tells you to solidify the “drying out.”

Adieu, my text, it’s my time to sleep,
the bed is made, and you should leave,
go with pigeons and peck some wheat,
go live, and set me free.

May 1, 2002



                                                                  for V. Chereshnya

It will be hard to part with white,
so painful, 
with the face of an abandoned alley,
with snow, that mutters:“ shouldn’t we
start making beds, should we?”

A sample of love, completely deaf,
flies towards the earth,
from underskirts of heavens, dusting tenderly,
it flies like ashes from soles of the ones,
walking on the sky.

My mother and my father
walk there,
and Almighty, as my friend discovered in verses,
grants them a quiet refuge.
Doesn’t not drive them mad. 

It’s never too late to join them,
nor it’s too early either, they
will not exit into the hallway nervously
and won’t give me a look.  The skies are lit,
incredible and starry.

It’s just a pity to part with white,
even though up there is even whiter,
with a relentless rhyme: with the body,
with smoking wood, with the charred
face of the alley.

And wisdom is also quite familiar with pity
It looks away
from temptation to live, from this smidgeon,
from life, of which, it’s inconceivable,
is left so little.

January 24, 2003



                                               for Lev Danovsky

Elusive pencil strokes, like in a ballet
on the tubercular spring sky.
Where are the times
when poems one after another
seemed like strokes of luck?

Where is Dzerzhinsky? Wind of history
blew him off the pedestal Oh, the fast one!
Felix, Felix, my arithmometer,
Edmundovich, the sickly one.

You and I are walking down the boulevard
between the taxi-wolf and the drunkard’s dog.
Ides of March were approaching.
Ida? Who is she? Can’t recall.

Where s Dzerzhinsky?  The grille and rust.
In the dairy department there are glazed
cheese rolls and a cashier with golden teeth.
Just reflect in the window, you, in a raincoat.

We are walking among fellow tribesmen,
rhymes easily playing along
from memorial tablets – here:
architect Carp.

You and I – are the ones, who will turn
Into our memories later, you and I –
a reason for the time to run backwards
into poems on the surface of waters.

Here is the pond. So, you, carp, get fished out,
and stay on the hook, so that Ida, with a lollipop
behind a pale cheek, should stay rosy
in the fairness of her species. 

So that the North wind Serov
should not erase us for real,
standing by the bridge, with an island behind it,
us, still real.

June 23, 2002



This is steppe, and a dry space, dry like an onion,
dropping skins on the pastureland of heat,
these are fat rails, the depot intestines, these are, in passing,
window shades in a hut on the right, a crooked bench,
and emaciated children– only ribs and faces in iridescent
ornaments of filth, and chickens in vegetable gardens,
like gray pillows, сlucking,  running around,
this is a blinding horse-fly of free-flowing, surviving, airless,
insane meters of land, with flies and dragonflies,
and nesting, lizard-like old women. 
Nothing is sadder, than suburban brick factories,
limestone outskirts of tin and chalky whiteboards.
How do people live there? how?(especially in the afternoon)
they smell of cabbage soup? lie in the sand? how do they manage
this semi-existence? why don’t they die from coolness and shade
of mere thinking of the sea, only wipe perspiration?
This is just an outsider’s view, conceded is passing,
looking in from the outside, but life gets wasted from the inside,
and this glance does not absorb tender invisible forces, and still –
this is steppe and hot skin of dry space,
tan, oily, inhaled by the children hands of
handymen, train drivers, track walkers’ hollow banging
on the kneecaps of a train, its large muscles,
this is the mice-like rustling of dusty and low vegetation,
this is all, that is dying from thirst, like a convict from
scrunching between his teeth Ekibastuz or Jezkazgan,
he will drown in a creek, he will lick down its bed,
he will drink for three days, not to succumb to the sadness
of dying, this neighborhood dreaming of rainstorm,
to water mouth cavity  and resurrect,  and resurrect.



These people – they are keepers
of your sorrow, not for lack of a reason
you wouldn’t want to be born
by anyone, from anyone, ever, never come in a dream,

I have to say, that for them
my life happens to be an unbearable burden,
that love and tyranny of our family –
is all the same,

this room – from the category of wards
for mentally ill: their eyes are clouded
by crazy tears, they are tortured
by their common fears,

look, they scream, agitated,
and wave their arms,
they can’t live without one another,
they bear innocent kids, and turn into demented mother and father.