After Mandelshtam

To the futile sound
of midnight church bells,
out back someone is
rinsing her thoughts in
universal sky—
a cold faint glowing.
As always stars are
white as salt on the
blade of an old axe.
The rain-barrel's full,
there's ice in its mouth.
Smash the ice—comets
and stars melt away
like salt, the water
darkens and the earth
on which the barrel
stands is transparent
underfoot, and there
too are galaxies,
ghost-pale and roaring
silently in the
chambers of the mind.


Copyright @ 2014 by Reginald Gibbons. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 3, 2014.

About this Poem

“‘After Mandelshtam’ is one of a group of poems most of which use a phrase or two, or a few images, from Osip Mandelshtam’s poems, which I have taken either from as yet unpublished translations of his work that I have made with the Russian poet Ilya Kutik, or from existing published translations. I feel compelled to honor the richness of his extraordinary imagination, the swiftness of his metaphorical transformations, and his moral and spiritual courage during years of poverty, censorship, internal exile, and ultimately illness ending in a lonely death.”

—Reginald Gibbons