Speech Over
Spilled Milk

I arrive at Christmas without a kopeck.
The publisher's dragging on with my epic.
The Moscow calendar's going Islamic.
          I'm not going anywhere.
Not to the bawling kids of my buddy,
the family bosom, or a certain lady-
friend I know. They all cost money.
           I shake with ill will in my chair.


0, the damnable craft of the poet.
The phone doesn't ring, and the future? A diet.
I could scrounge at the union branch --- you try it:
           may as well scrounge from the local girls.
Lost independence is worse by far
than lost innocence. To dream of a dear
hubby is awfully nice, I'm sure.
          How jolly, the jingle of wedding bells.


Aware of my status, my fiancée
hasn't lifted a finger to marry me
these last five years. And where is she?
           The devil can't beat out that news.
She says, "Don't cry over nothing. What matters
are feelings. All in favor?" The vote is
carried. That's good of her. Clearly she favors
          finding a place she can score some booze.


In general I don't trust my fellows.
To the distaff side, my extra belly's
a burden. What I think man's role is
          never fails to piss them off.
They think of me as a kind of bandit,
mock my appetite, probably find it
funny. I certainly get no credit.
          "Pour him some of the watery stuff!"


I see my single self in a mirror.
I can make no sense of this simple data:
that I made it to Holy Christmas number
          nineteen hundred and sixty-seven.
Twenty-six years of continuous hassle,
digging in pockets, the blows of official
fists, performing the legal shuffle,
           flirting, faking I'm slow, unspeaking.


Smoothly life slides by on its courses.
(Well, that's the case at least for the masses.)
Marx turns out to be right, but by Marx's
          lights mine should be out by now.
The balance is in who knows whose favor?
My living at all is a kind of dilemma.
I'm making a somersault out of my era.
           Pardon, please, this shiftless fellow.


It seems appropriate to stay calm.
Nobody's yelling at us: "Aux armes!"
The nobles have generally bought the farm.
           There's no Pugach or Stenka. "The Winter
Palace is ours!" So goes the plot.
Dzhugashvili's pickled for good in a pot.
The gun on the topgallant fo'c'sle's shot.
          I think, and only money enters.


Money hides in safes and strong rooms,
under the floor, in stockings, roof beams,
fireproof boxes, orders, tax forms,
          nature's gagging on all that green!
Freshly minted wads of cash
are rustling like the tops of acacias.
I'm foundering in hallucinations ---
          somebody give me oxygen!


Night. The rustle of falling snow.
The scratch of a spade on the stones below.
There's an icon lamp in an opposite window.
          Me, I'm wound on a spring of steel.
I can see the lamp, that's all. I can't actually
see the icon. Look from the balcony:
snow has saddled each roof with a canopy.
          Houses aren't themselves at all.


Equality, pal, throws brotherhood off.
Better make sense of that. A slave
breeds nothing but another slave,
          and no less after a revolution.
Capitalists breed communists,
who spawn in time careerists.
These finally hatch out morphinists.
          But all of this you find in Lucian.


The Goldfish swimming to and fro
will grant no wish. What did Marx know
about Production? Labor's no
          commodity. To say it is
insults the workers. It's the goal
and form of being. Money's, well,
its base. It's more than just a meal,
           but let's try making sense of this.

--- From Nativity Poems
Joseph Brodsky
Glyn Maxwell, Translator
©2001, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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