Pierre Abelard, balls pulverized, lies on the floor.
His body, swollen, pale, is dripping tar.
His dog, who didn’t save him, howls there in remorse.
Dawn outside his chambers disintegrates, retreats,
Anxious, breath unwholesome, like the stricken man.
The theologian exhales himself,
Speaks to his unusable body:
Now come with me.
No longer will you serve me like a master,
You will serve me like a servant.
And your every aspect will be known to me:
The ball of earwax, the spit,
Morning bile, evening bile,
Attacks of colic, chills.
Now I’ll be a brother to you, monstrous body,
Not your slave.
I have enjoyed you
For too long now:
Those scholastics of shadows-shudders,
That doctrine of her contorted face
Thrust onto the sheets by my hating hand the second before climax.
Afterward her face would grow composed, like the face of a doll or a corpse,
While I, sobbing my thanks in the noble stench of our simplest game,
Straddled her and laughed – such red blood came out of the black hole.
Now everything will change.
I will dry out: like earth at first frost, like a weightless locust.
My body will be what a body should be – doubts, dandruff, piss,
God will be what God should be – a barked “hand me that notebook,”
Fatigue, cats lying dead at the side of the road, and first snow.
The sentences in her letters will grow shorter though thicker
With bodily metaphors. I will wrestle her each morning
In a short dream, like the angel with Jacob,
And wake from it crying: are you there are you there?
But my lips will be dry already, my hands will hold air.
*translation by Catherine Ciepiela
CATHERINE CIEPIELA is a scholar and translator of Russian poetry who teaches at Amherst College. She is the author of The Same Solitude (Cornell 2006), a study of Marina Tsvetaeva’s epistolary romance with Boris Pasternak; co-editor, with Honor Moore, of The Stray Dog Cabaret (NYRB 2007), an anthology of poems by the Russian modernists in Paul Schmidt’s translations; and editor of the recent anthology Relocations: Three Contemporary Women Poets (Polina Barskova, Anna Glazova, Maria Stepanova). Her translations of PolinaBarskova and Marina Tsvetaeva have appeared in The Massachusetts Review, The Common, The Nation, Seneca Review and elsewhere, and she is the recipient of a Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize for a translation of Barskova.
POLINA BARSKOVA began publishing her poetry at age nine and is the author of eight books of poems; her latest, Ariel’s Dispatch (Soobshchenie Ariela, NLO, 2011), was nominated for an Andrey Bely award. Two collections of her poetry in English translation appeared recently: This Lamentable City (Tupelo Press, 2010) and The Zoo in Winter (Melville House Press, 2010). She is a published scholar with degrees in classical literature (from St. Petersburg University) and Slavic languages and literatures (UC Berkeley). Her research has focused on cultural life during the siege of Leningrad, about which she has numerous publications and two forthcoming books. She currently teaches Russian literature at Hampshire College and lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.