Early Mandelstam

by Patrick Mackie

Tough little angels of sound are howling off the rich surfaces of the water tonight,
but do not let that worry you.
The river Avon is bright black and yet it is not worried.
Harsh little ripples of what is not in fact cold sweat lick and etch around
the edges as it goes bending and loosening downwards.
It is covered in fragments of speed moving in bright little twitches and gurgles.
All the sounds rush towards it as if they had just discovered thirst,
and then they skid off it because it is too dark to drink.
Its water is as suave and tough as a piano lid.
I have got the early Mandelstam blues bending in my brain.
The tunes are hard and quiet and permanent like the veins
stretched taut across the body of a small wet stone.
Mandelstam translated some of my best things into Russian a century or so ago,
and of course this was quite an honour for me,
though he should perhaps have waited for me to write them first.
It will just look like copying if I write them now.
The night-time is turning the day into a foreign language now,
a language that at least is equally foreign to us all,
one that breaks all the splendid syllables down into pieces
and then flings them over the pale buildings
as if description had been a bad idea in the first place.
The day is washing its face off in the wet black air.
Streetlights are wandering around on the vanishing slopes,
and getting older too seems to mean getting smaller and weirder by the day.
I have not been in an aeroplane for well over a decade,
and this is just a single example for you.
The revolution came and ate up all its poets as if they were merely sounds or moths
or starlight.
All the buildings here stand as still as ghosts that are frightened of themselves.
I am very slowly turning into water vapour.
I guess that it is one way of being
translated,
while the softness of the stone bridge still reaches and wavers like a tongue.