New Series No. 20 - 2002
Three Russian Poets
To Comrade Nette - The Steamship and the Man*
I had cause to shudder – it wasn’t a spectre.
Into port, gleaming in the molten light,
Entered Comrage ‘Theodore Nette’.
Yes, it was him alright.
I knew him from the lifebelt-glasses he was wearing,
Just like in the old days. Nette, how are you?
I’m so glad you’re stil with us, alive and sharing
In the smokey confusion of cables and cargoes.
Come closer – if it’s not too shallow for you here
After steaming from Batum throught the open seas.
Nette, d’you recall how in your previous career
As a man you once drank tea on a train with me?
The others were all snoring like dormice by you
Ttayed awake and talked about Romka Jakobson
And poetry all night – yet your eyes stayed glued
To the diplomatic bags – till finally around dawn
You nodded off to sleep with your hand still clamped
So tightly round your gun you must have had cramp
In your finger . . . You’re welcome to come and have a go,
If you’ve got the never! At the time did you dream the
Moment would arrive in year or so
When we’d meet again – and that you’d be a steamer?
The moon glows like a conflagration.
And now it’s declined, dividing the flood.
As though you trail behind you form that confrontation
On the train a heroic stream of blood.
Communism from books is never quite real.
‘Any kind of nonsence can find support
In books’. But the act which you performed reveals
The essence and soul of communist thought.
We live, united by a common conviction;
For its sake we’ll encure all manner of afflication:
To live in a unified world, made happier
By the absence of divisions like Russia and Latvia.
Blood, not water, flows through our veins.
Marching through a storm of bullets, we try
To ensure that one day we’ll be born again
In steamships, in words – in things that never die.
I’d like to live, careering through the years.
And yet I can think of nothing better
Than to face my death without regrets or fears
The way it was faced by Comrade Nette.
Odessa. I boarded a steamship for Yalta. As our ship was leaving harbour, it was met by another, bearing the name, written in golden letters gleaming in the sun: “Theodore Nette”. This was my second meeting with Nette; but by now he was no longer a man, but a steamship.
Translated by Stephen Capus
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