From “Holy Winter” [How did we come to be in this wardrobe?]

translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale

How did we come to be in this wardrobe?
(How did I come to be in this coffin?)

We aren’t alone in the wardrobe:
Ancient shaggy pelts,
A frozen fleece, hung with icicles
Fur coats with deep dark shores
You are lost in them (we are lost) as in a forest
The dreadful smell of chill, nightfall
The snow marked by the pox.

In a distant and strange realm
There rocks a crystal tomb,
Snow falls, starlit space
The coffin swaying side to side
Above the earth in a wasted place
On a bed of ice sleeps your bride.

Marie Stahlbaum dreams
That she is in a deep well —
The sleeve of her father’s fur coat
The musk of mothballs, closeness, darkness
The silken lining whispering,
Walls lined with jars and jars
Filled with summer fruit preserve
Whitest light at the end of the tunnel
The staircase gets steeper and steeper
The steps fewer and fewer.

Tatiana Larina dreams
That she is running out to meet you
But the earth has long grown cold
The colonnaded house knee-deep
In heaped snow
The path gone, the road under drifts
That reach to the steeple’s cross.
No headstones anymore, the churchyard
Full, and the rosy tint of the snow,
Pale as drugget opened over the plain.

No, we can’t take the sleigh and ride out
To the pine woods for tea with Mr Bear.

Ovid in Tomis dreams
Of white geese over Rome.

Auntie Toma dreams
Of how the model life begins.

Excerpts from HOLY WINTER copyright © Maria Stepanova, 2021. Translation copyright © Sasha Dugdale, 2024. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.