Thursday, September 28, 1989


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN                                                  

The first hunters who crossed Siberia
survived winter's ancestors
because they wasted nothing—
something of the Inuit remains.
What do we know of Siberia?
We say Siberia, naming the nameless zone
between the taiga  and the tundra.
We say it because it conjures up the idea of wind and snow
unfettered by man to come and go where it pleases.
When we say Siberia the air fills with tundra flowers
and we mean the Siberia of stunted pines
and caribou migrations, but it's also the Siberia
of strip mines and  nuclear physics.
We say it midsummer, under a curtain of fire,
where night never begins;
and in winter, where it never stops.
We say it to sustain us as the invisible wolf
testing the strength of double-paned glass
stares in from the pupiled eye of night.
We say Siberia, stretching out syllables
until it becomes the wind's voice.
We say it as a punishment to our children.
We will ship them off to Siberia.
Banishment is always another country.
We make jokes about it,
and so I touch your golden skin in summer,
how it radiates the sun
while mine is the white of winter.
In the land of exile,
the land of the long ruble,
of opportunists and political prisoners,
where does the Siberian tiger sleep now?
We say Siberia and know nothing about it.

You tell me someone has to be the first
to love across political boundaries
until nations put down their ideals.
There's little comfort in knowing tears or blood
are the same chemistry as their mother, the ocean.
In Novosibirsk, scientists in white rooms
play nuclear physics with God
like ours at White Sands and Alamagordo.
Something of the landscape must touch them
surely they dream?
Last night, the sky wore red
and I stood between two rainbows.
Prisms and physics could not explain away refracted light.
There are those desperate enough to drink perfume.
They must've pissed the very heart of summer flowers into snow
only to go blind, was it worth it? Nosdrov'yeh,
a toast clawing olfactory nerves and tissueó
the period between midwinter and spring. Asylum.
But you've been there too, a spy among inmates,
your drawings record far better than any camera
life within the walls of insanityówho's more insane:
the Georgian man over and over again in pencil,
the scientists who turn their backs on the earth,
or those who send the flower of their youth
to front lines to bathe in jellied gasoline
in the name of an idea?
We are all crazy.
It comes with the territory.

Did I tell you Solzhenitsyn lives in a fortress
of his own choosing, deep in the mountains of Vermont?
It's the Gulag  all over again.
He brought his Siberian islands with him.
Dogs patrol the electric fence in regimented intervals.
Stalin's been dead nearly as many years as we've lived.
America is also an experiment,
an armed song singing itself
toward extinction like all the rest.
Yes, we are victims of historyó
fill the silos with grain.
But I touch your face,
my fingers memorize geography.
You ask, how does it feel to be living with bears?
Everyone loses their teeth in Siberia
and you never met a woman before who bites.
I cannot forget your eyesóall that blue,
not of glaciers and ice but of the soft secret heart of stone.
Translucence leashed and folded like linen bedsheets.
Your hand reaches for the moon hidden beneath my shirt,
seeking familiar patterns in a gesture that's timeless.
Learning to live with the land is something the Inuit knew
but even they've begun to turn their backs on it.
We should be around the fire telling stories,
buried in thick furs, safe in each other's arms
but we're not dressed in skins.
I carry a bear's tooth in my pocket
and keep skulls outside my window, just in case.
We live on opposite sides of the earth,
lovers in exile, but love is like that.
We need visas and annulments.
By naming it, it's too late,
we're no longer in the country of origin.
Siberia is singing from the heart of deepest night.
Small hooves pound in our chests.
We live on blubber,
savor fatty tissue and cannot sleep.
V'kusna ? Out of death comes life;
from life, death follows like wolves
trailing the caribou herd.


Friday, September 22, 1989


Тіні забутих предків   — based on the 1964 film 
                        by Soviet filmmaker Sergei Parajanov

Ivan fed Marichka guelder-rose berries.
The deer witnessed their love in the rain.
They cannot marry. Their families—enemies so long—
they've forgotten why. He promised to return in autumn.
In the mud: a horseshoe, a cowbell, a ram's horn.

A vee of sheep, like blazing light, entered the circle.
But winter came early. Low wind under the doors & incessant rain.
Ivan, gazing at a bright star, slept fitfully on the grass.
Beskid, why don't you marry? the wind asked the mountain.
Because the green field will not have me, said the mountain. 

Time melted into the boundless expanse
when she came through the birches to find him —
and fell from such a height, the birds were jealous.
The hunters brought a bear down from the mountains.
A constellation hanging from a trapezoid of birch boughs.

When Ivan returned, the mute could tell him nothing.
Marichka, so young and so drowned. Shadows everywhere.
Torches along the river at night—venial stars and eyes of fish.
He followed her downriver on a raft. What else was there to do?
To be buried among birches in the Carpathians by a lover,

who buried the child in you, required a special kind of music.
Grave-digging, he became fascinated with the texture of earth.
Tamed by his grief, the deer came to listen.
His mother held an invisible axe to her heart.
Slender candles in the church — bent tapers of life's roads.

Don't blow out the horse fire, it has to go out by itself.
It's shameful what love has done to him, the villagers cried.
They made up songs about his life. The icons knew suffering joy. 
The villagers gave him a burning crown of thorns, a lamb for warmth, 
but temptation arrived in the shape of a woman on a white horse

who cast a shoe. As he bent to the pony, she lifted her red skirt. 
His eyes, slow as a summer river, rose to her face, where east meets west.
She offered him an apple. Why not?  he shrugged. 
Harnessed together like common oxen, they began a new life.
But he broke her coral beads, thinking of Marichka,
another broken necklace, one summer among birches.

Yarrow and aster fell before his scythe; he cannot love his wife.
His thirst, so great he kissed the mirror of the river
where Marichka slept. The deer came to lick salt from her grave.
Even the wind knew something of her name.
So they blew away spirits of the dead — insistent candles.

The pine burst into flame, the shaman and the woman conspired,
their lips seeking another kind of secret. Sleeping with geomancy,
& wanting a child, she stood naked in his circle of sycamores.
Signs of earlier fires. Trinal jealousy. A nest of hoodies, young crows.
Who throws corn at horses stampeding into the forest so thick,

no crow can fly? Milk spills into the river by faith alone.

The ram is riding the horse. Crows fall from the sky.
On the tavern walls, pine boughs whispered a warning:
Ivan, Ivan — Marichka is in the river waiting, asking, when?
The shaman raised the ritual axe, there were no witnesses. 

He staggered to her — a red wound. Her hands answered him, come.
Milk & blood spills into the river. Wash his body beneath the mountain. 
Bury him in the field with coins, an axe, & the clothes of his youth.
At the wake, bagpipes skirled, the floorboards shook —
men grappling with women's skirts under cover of darkness.

The fallow green field raises her moist hips to meet him.


Monday, September 18, 1989


        Trabaja el mar en mi silencio.
             Pablo Neruda

We watch the sky for clues.
Birds proclaim unchartered territories.
A certain slant of sunlight grows wings.
Keepers of the circle, we sit on a blanket,
listen to translations of wind in the sycamores;
palisades     summer grass      cicada song
and pass the drum. Someone hands me a piece of paper.
The source of my freedom is what I fear most.
Bluejays argue, scissor-sharp, which direction to fly.
Words fall from the mouths of bees,
deer hooves rattlefirst breath or final inspiration?
It no longer matters what we believe in. It happens anyway.
Watermelon rind on the blanketnot the marriage blanket
where he undid me with promises under the stars of Chiapas
only to bury a child's eyes beneath the stones of Tikal.
From inside the drum of my heart I howled
under the solstice moon rising over Mt. St. Helena
and from deep canyons coyotes answered. What more do I want?
I wear trophies of where we've been:
Baja, Peru, the Galapagos. An equator of pain visible
to the naked eye takes on the green form of air above the pond.
I struggle for balance, drawn to obsession like fire to air,
and learn first-hand the meaning of words: betrayal, abandonment, she.
She stalks up the path; a pathetic fish skewered to her stick.
Taking my man wasn't enough, she had to kill the sunfish too;
not to eat it but to prove some senseless notion to herself
because it was alive, an irridescent trophy. A bauble.
Its carnal colors bleed into the sky; drab corpse forgotten.
He will comfort her, call her a brave hunter.
They will build shining deceptions; whatever it takes.
Mirate, I hiss at her. Look at yourself.
The cardinal rule of the hunter: eat what you kill.
He devoured me clean down to gleaming bone.
The poets cloak me with feathers and shake the gourd;
they say the Tarot gave her Death mounted on a white horse.
I dream the medicine man uncovers a word on the photo
heiau, and he asks me for silver coins to bury it with.
For the grandfathers, for your vision, he says.
On a yarrow stick, an "i," the letter of death
becomes a plumed serpent, Quetzocoatl.
He smudges me with wild tobacco smoke and sage,
kisses me, says, you will find what you seek.
I remember how it felt on the outside:
this circle becomes a source of acceptance.
I am the drum, I learn the drumsong.
We are standing on ceremonial ground.
A wobbly prayer lifts up, takes flight
across the valley. Heiau he way,
he noni noni ne he, heiau he way.




Searching for true east, a marriage,
I rub bergamot between my breasts
and the quiet rage of Eurasia arises
in you but Easter slipped from my legs
like a saber in all its crimson misery.
Where have you been all my life? we ask.
Blame this mating on the aroma of asters,
a midnight river teasing us,
or your mother's birthday vodka.
The idea undoes us like trousers,
(I hand them to you like a dutiful wife,
pants, I say, grabbing your cock,
your breast, so like a girl's, you answer)
and feathered with the august details
of a continent or two in the way,
there is time enough for remorse.
The child within cannot forget the mystery
of Siberian tigers who roam the mist
between the taiga and the tundra,
the extinction of the world in their settling tracks.
Our eyes measure the barometer of true east
and Tatar ponies from the steppes 
plunder our dreams.

A morgue in the place of memory,
was it Poland or Armenia?
The even meter of soldier's feet urges
and arouses (ergot on rye, rarest of serums)
the idea of homeland. 
The Ukrainian mortuary of Bibi Yar.
Is it better to kill a son like Taras Bulba?
Sorry tears are of little use to the iris then.

What beast beats the tambour making us merry?
What year begat this tribe of dancing bears
under starry mirages of usury and augery?
Is it better to marry mid-winter in a yurt
beneath meteor showers when the magi comes?
Maybe tremors have little to do with the magus
who is restorer of rumors and of greater truths.

The irate grebes and murres
master the river and the marsh
with indifferent but equal tongues.