Green gold, black gold

Issue 1/2001 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Jakutian aurinko (‘The Yakutian sun’; Tammi, 2000). Introduction by Kari Sallamaa

So this, then, is Tomsk,
a town, tumbling into snow.
Even its lanes rise up into the sky.
No longer fragrant the pine,
the juniper, not even the gardens.
Can’t trust the skirts,
above the rooftops,
stripes are beaten out of the carpet,
yellow and turquoise for the horizon,
under the rooftops, fingernails
rip the wallpaper,
those white frost fingernails.

So, this is Tomsk,
in its streets the Volgas zip by.
And when I get a ride, the back seat fills up in no time.
Breath steams, nylon rips. The ladies
apply lipstick, unconcerned.

Irsk. Noise above rail yard
like grinding teeth. I shrug,
the train switches tracks.
Car after car, day after day.
Thus your days are well-lit night.
The nights, grinding of teeth.
Irkutsk. Joints squeal, days swoosh past,
on the steppe a yurt collapses.
That’s where home is, Irkutsk,
the train cars like exhaled air.
There, in the warmth of breathing
beneath dense fur.

Oh Sputnik, iron star, keep on playing
that pop tune, spew notes into the ether.
Let your clock-hands glow above mountain ranges,
let midnight be announced from beyond galaxies,
millions of years as the rain travelled across the empty ocean
and out of it steaming stalagmites rose.
Let gastropod shells hum their tale of a time
when the cloud cover began to fray,
when molecules began to form chains.
And crustaceans gnawed messages into stones.
Let them tell how mussels wove armor
around themselves, how they carved
a rock to so resemble a brain.
Oh, Sputnik, iron star, protect our sleep,
sprinkle your rust mixed with snow on these rooftops
as they rise and fall
in the rhythm of breathing.
Light up the streets. Signpost the roads.
Guide the seafarers – as if they ever
needed it – toward the harbor’s photoelectric cells
spilling their honey on the water.
Guide the traveling fair as it proceeds
from town to town, its ferris wheel carried in containers,
dismantled. And guide me
along that track made by the wheels of their carts
past the roundabout creatures, the tiger all swollen in the rain,
to the fragrance of popcorn and spun sugar.

When Laika, abandoned in space, barks
the lights in the hovels come on, one by one.
It might already be seven o’clock, iron might fall
from the sky, but the law of physics
written on stone and gastropod shell,
still drives this blue village.
And so is the votive lamp lit,
so does its oily heart grow warm
and dream shadows dance on the wall.
Somewhere a lonely dog peers down at Earth.
I am guarding this planet, she might be saying
when she barks, but, you know, those radio stations,
all those messages, the sky is full of them,
full of the satellites’ clatter and hum.

Open the curtain.
I open a view on a forest that has been cut down.
A stag charges across the field,
moon between teeth, squeaking snow
under its cloven hooves.
It runs behind the tree trunks and you can hear
a steady clanking, the sound of a train.
The stag runs through the millennial din
toward the next zeros, where the brakes squeal.
A crystal bowl it carries between its antlers,
filled with ice and bubbling drink.
So take a glass, take a spoon, stir vigor out of the bubbles.
But behind the treetops, beyond the cloud mountains
the stag lugs the treasure. There
the tired messenger hangs his head, snorts freezing mist.

The crowned head looks at the world. This forest,
behind the meadow, it’s mine, he might say, snorting,
as the smoke rises and the horizon grows pale.
The crowned head hears the machine’s thunder,
hears how steel bends across rivers and columns pass
one after another. Nothing can hold them back:
Ob, Lena, Yenisei. The ice breaks
like an eggshell. The frozen ground
splits open, becomes a highway. The crowned head
looks at the world, shrugs pitch off his flanks.
And under His Majesty’s eyelids
the columns keep on coming.

Bow before the mountain ash. Under it, face up,
your brother lies. In earth’s bosom
bones blacken, herbs sprout between vertebrae.
Bow before the mountain ash, its skinlike bark,
the necklace hung on a forked branch. Bow
to the treetop’s flame.
The roots pierce your brother’s chest.
The roots pierce your brother’s forehead.
The mountain ash is full of voices,
when spring comes, they burst out as leaves.

The sun rises, again and again, the sun of Yakutia,
that creaky, rusty globe.
And the ground shakes as the black gold, the green gold
is pumped out of it, as the sturgeon roe is canned
hand over fist, in three shifts
to feed the hungry mouth.
And far from here, far beyond the mountains
in every cast concrete apartment-shaped hole
with the scent of cardamom, fresh-roasted coffee,
with the fluorescent light’s buzz
where a solarium provides warmth and light,
every inhabitant, every smile stretched by starched collars
gets ready for the working day, audits, exercise
in the afternoon, long wet lunches.

When the moon paints the town, the crystal shimmers
and the tart beverage effervesces.
Night sprinkles stars onto the surface of ponds.
A silken cloak spreads over the ice.
This view enchants us,
two silent, steaming mouths.
This is a buzz without booze, a blind drunk as the stars ring,
this is a festive moment on the edge of outer space,
the hubbub of fossils underfoot.
So let us drink this toast: gravity no longer applies,
and the steam may conceal us.

I signed on. Cabin boy, mess boy, whatever your preference.
The seaweed took hold on the cliff and the sea bloomed like a
field in July. High tide, ebb tide, oh boy, what a fast trip that
was. I leaned on the rail, tapped the metal with my fingers,
listened to the swoosh of steel.

I signed on, is that what you decided, to Cape Horn and Amur,
foamy straits and radiant inlets. The ocean screamed, and a
person leaned on the rail like Poseidon, the golden-haired god.
Colder than ice. Brighter than a flame. Wanted to wail like the wind.

I signed on for a glowing tin sky, a glowing tin wind. I was
given cumulus clouds and burning salt. Foam in my ears and
nostrils. A photophobic freight I was given, a hold full of
dreams, a bill of lading, already signed. I was given everything
you wanted to give me.

Translated by Anselm Hollo