now I warm you with my blood, listen
to this flesh.
It is far truer than poems.
– Marina Tsvetaeva
I. Hand . . .) – Perhaps, delirium?
Whoever opens the hand will find the way in.
Begin one inch below the knuckle and scalpel
to the bone. There is no time to be brave.
Thomas Browne said a white mist rises from the body
opened after death. They cut me open, my grandfather
said once, his sternum scar reddening at the nerve of it.
Something rose and may not now return. I know—
my own hand has been peeled open like a late summer
fig and will not close. Not even over yours.
Let us look at all the ways we cannot move. At how
not all that bears down upon us from above is kind.
But even Longinus, unlikely saint of the spear,
was pardoned because of what he released,
what still comes from the bone in the side:
Light, yes, and also the finite world.
II. Either love is
- A shrine?
or else a scar.
Much shedding still to be done. Winter in Venice,
the anaemic sun skims from dark to dark.
There are four hundred bridges to be crossed,
and I am already lost. At last, I think. Lasciare, I say.
Lasciare, because I like the sound of it, the feel in the mouth
as if it wants to be a storm. In the upper rooms of the Scuola Grande,
Satan offers Christ a stone that he might turn
it to bread. The light of the desert there is the light here,
the pale sun fogs and somehow burns; it seems
so kindly, this offering. Finally, said Goethe of Venice,
one does disentangle oneself, but it is an incredible maze.
Finally we will learn to leave certain things behind;
we small children walking the woods, our pockets filled
with crumbs. This is how easy it is to arrive, the last
of the bread in hand. To her lover Konstantin wrote
the poet Tsvetaeva,
please say this bridge cannot
as it ends.
City also of the spectre, journeying low in the sky on the coat-tails of the sun.
III. and at last a hand receives
the nail in it. A logic that turns
everything over. To separate.
We must not start with the nail. First there was poetry
written in a fury, rushing broad and light as the river Vltava
beneath Karluv Most, and as braided with secrets. Oh the losses
into the all, Marina, the stars that are falling! wrote Rilke
to Tsvetaeva. Her poems, the letters—hardly a breath taken,
unless it was to ask for something: More devotion!
from Pasternak; more eternity from Rilke. Beyond the page,
only time and hunger like weights on the ankles. Tied her daughter
Irina to a chair while she and her elder child sought rations.
What else to do, said Marina, when I came home once to find the child
had eaten an entire half a cabbage? And when Irina died of malnutrition,
she wrote to Antonina Bogengardt, ever since I have felt desperately
afraid of separation. Held on to one passion after another
as if it were at last some bread, something she could put her lips to.
In the end, even her lovers were impatient. Long conversations
in strung-out cafés—would you stop saying hands, Marina. Isn’t it
by now—a tired pun? We know what you were handed,
how you were unhanded.
Uncareless, yet she lost one thing after another—child, homeland,
husband, lovers—as if her fists were in fact full of holes. Unhanded, yes:
until she was left with only a single nail around which she hooked
one end of a string, the other end tight to the throat. Not a poem
of the end but the end itself, more fond of a full-stop
than she had ever been
IV. Last bridge I won’t
give up or take out my hand
this is the last bridge
Surely there is still a way to sew the world together?
Even the universe, exploded once, is inclined now to pull in
on itself against the tide. We set down to gravity. We wash the dishes
and put them away. Lasciare, lasciare—until we must stop.
What rolls off the tongue is not all that keeps us steady
or what bridges the open. Nor the line
broken and then re-set. Long after he was cut open
from sternum to belly my grandfather continued to walk
to the Blackwood River, to take account of the incoming silt
from the river mouth, the tides, the new small wildflowers,
and to talk quietly to whoever walked beside him. Somehow
we weave back into ourselves, pace back in. There is blood
that rises, simple as sap, and flows. Or the hand,
re-trained to open and close, learns at last to make a fist.
And always the scar sinks ever deeper, beetling in.
‘Now I warm you with my blood …’
Marina Tsvetayeva 1974 ‘Poem of the End’ in Selected Poems, trans Elaine Feinstein, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 114. All subsequent quotations from this edition
‘Hand …) – Perhaps, delirium?”
Tsvetayeva 1974, from the translation notes of Angela Livingstone, 128
A white mist / rises from the body ...
Thomas Browne, cited in W.G. Sebald 2002 The Rings of Saturn, trans Michael Hulse, London: Vintage, 17
‘Either love is / A shrine? …’
Tsvetayeva 1974, 103
From the Italian: to leave, to abandon, to give up.
Finally, said Goethe of Venice, one does disentangle …
cited in John Zilcosky 2004 ‘Sebald’s Uncanny Travels’ in JJ Long and A Whitehead (eds), WG Sebald: a critical companion, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 103
To her lover Konstantin wrote the poet …
Tsvetayeva 1974, 114
‘and at last a hand receives’
Tsvetayeva 1974, 120
Oh the losses / into the all, Marina, the stars that are falling!
Rainer Maria Rilke 1987, The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Stephen Mitchell), London: Picador, 289
I came home once to find the child / had eaten an entire half of a cabbage
Tsvetaeva 2006, cited in Paul Muldoon, The End of the Poem, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 301: ‘If Alya has been with me, the first order of business is to untie Irina from the chair. I started tying her up after the time she ate half a head of cabbage from the cabinet while Alya and I were out.’
I have felt desperately / afraid of separation.
cited in Viktoria Schweitzer 1992 Tsvetaeva, Hammersmith: Harvill, 240
‘Last bridge I won’t’
Tsvetayeva 1974, 112