"Passaic River in Paterson," "A Sketch," and "To An Atlantis"

Passaic River in Paterson

It becomes  dark forever at 6.30
as I'm the only one  to get off at my station,
warm train  taking the light away
to stars. In  the west, Passaic
rustles its winter waters in the leafless world
as I walk the resounding mile

from this platform to the car parked on the bridge's  east end
in December,

and down the  river, the invisible snowless Jersey towns
light up like a chain of alcohol burners,
the halos over them - what color are they? -
grayish orange like ashes
hover
           squashed  with blackness above them
- that's  where skies are.

 

Traffic lights shine from bushes,
steppe wolves.
Passaic, Passaic! Your quiet but hissing name is
like Mongol  campfires 
squeezing the fortress
I am the last one to defend.

 

The cold  cars on the hill darker than skies
look like empty tin hats
on soldiers' graves. 
As I, with  the hill and this town and
 asteroid lit by its blurry tide-moving  companion
 –– I am coasting in space,

I'm flying away with the earth as I climb up all the way to the top,
as I reach for the key,
unstick  the icy hundred-ton door
with my bare fingers
and ignite the still
frozen  heart.

 


 

A Sketch

 

They leave - and then don't leave,
tawny,  they fall
but pause.  At noon
Jonathan Schwartz says: Here is Sinatra.

 

They leave
and write their  letters, postcards -
each rusty leaf
alive, et cetera.

 

They linger,  want to stay,
and give a reason - a remark,  a notion,
or, say,  regret,  or
explanation.  For

 

December comes and nothing to explain
                                                      or bear
or let alone to love,
but footsteps on the snow
or radio -
          thin threads in cracked air.

 


 

To An Atlantis

Fleet  left. Towers
are rising from waters
- and sink again:
 Grand Central of the sea -

its bottle glass of  empty
    deep terminals, and foamless
          passages, and shoals of baby fish...
Brave  Herodotus had it described, it’s just
  the illustrations
       that seem new.

So, to Palenque! To all the native cities
swallowed by forests, to all the  folding books
of hieroglyphs, to  the clean design
                                 of Mayan steps,
to steppes beneath the alto-cumulus convoys,

where my grandfather  at sixteen denounced
the family,  joined the Red  Guard,
saw terror,  saw it all,  sent them to hell,
got himself  jailed,  jailed again, exiled, then old.

We haven’t started it but we've got to see
how mermaids swim by rusty snapped-off doors
of an express stuck in abyssal mud –
and sit on cliffs of rhymes and sing.

As for the meter – as for the pure honey
 of rhythm,
        for iamb of littoral, for anapest of depths,
lighthouses of metaphors, drill towers above shelf waters –
           we know that tar at night does look mysterious.

From space that glides so low,
           oil spills look like an unknown
                     alphabet.

 

 

Irina Mashinski

Irina Mashinski was born in Moscow; she graduated summa cum laude from the Physical Geography Department of Moscow University where she later completed her Ph.D. studies. She is the author of ten books of poetry and translations (in Russian). Her first English-language collection, The Naked World, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil. She is co-editor, with Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk, of The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry (Penguin Classics, 2015), and co-founder (with the late Oleg Woolf) and editor-in-chief of the StoSvet literary project, which includes the Cardinal Points Journal. She is the recipient of several Russian literary awards. In 2016, she received the Hawthornden fellowship.

 

Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 - 09:06