Wednesday, 3 February 2010

St Petersburg

by Martin Enckell

in the city of the sphinxes, and the mothers,
in the city where death’s sphinx
rests in double majesty, and where the mothers
bear the bread home, out to the infinities of kneeling concrete,
where the children, the children increasingly often refuse to find their way home,
in this city of the mothers, and the sphinxes,
life writes its shadow script, as in fever,
as if an enormous tubercular angel had lain down to die
over the Neva’s delta, over the mirage of stone and the marsh river’s dark reflections,
over golden pinnacles and cupolas, over feverish gold, over façades doomed to beauty,
over palaces and portals where raw cold mist drifted in, over the trampled jewel
and the suburbs that mock, over the weighed-down marshes, and over weighed-down fates,
dizzying fates, and harrowed, that were scattered,
and are still scattered, into nothingness – in the city of the sphinxes, and the mothers.


she is old and bent, she begs, begs her way in
behind your eyes, by one of the passages down to the underworld,
and you implore her, implore her not to look like your mother,

night after night her youth rolls in over you,
night after night you approach requiems she will never write,
night after night she freezes into pictures you have no access to


in a white dress, by the window, in that light cool room,
she stands listening to the lingering echo
from a gate that has slammed shut, watching as through veils
the retinue of phantoms from the Marinsky, sylphides and future doomed
who silently stride across the Neva’s frail dark ice


dawn after dawn death stands
and polishes, caresses, caresses her doorknob,
dusk after dusk she locks you
in her gaze, a gaze that has swept over a whole century


and in a black low-cut dress, in the icy palace,
she dances then, all night long, her bridal waltz
with ghost after ghost, until she dances with the dawn
in whose eyes red spiders gleam, and she hears the iron gates
slam shut about the rooms, the rooms where the taiga and the tundra begin


night after night she freezes into the memories where death constantly divides,
night after night she approaches those she loved, over the Styx,
night after night she rolls a waxworks of torments over you,

she is one of the many, one of the dumb, she is all and each,
who stood and waited, for months and years, who stood and queued
and waited, outside Kresty, the martyrdom, the prison that sanctified the word.


life writes its corrosive shadow script over the most beautiful of cities,
as though an angel, an enormous tubercular angel, were trying to bless all that is doomed,
by letting itself be blessed down in the slowly sinking foundations of beauty,
while death, indifferent, apparently indifferent, watches death, in double majesty,
out of frozen stone, above the river, above the Styx – in the city of the mothers, in Saint Petersburg.

(Ny Tid / Kontur 4/98)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

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