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24 September 2016

"Ode to Stalin"



Were I to work in charcoal that would draw the highest praise –

my ode to joy – its silent oscillation –

I’d draw in cunning angles –

anxiously, uneasily –

the present in the lines would answer,

and art border on audacity

to picture him who honours cultures of one hundred

forty nations while he shivers the mir’s axis.

I’d raise the angle of the brow

and, sketching it again, reauthorize its sweep.

Knowing it was Prometheus whose fire lights the coal,

look, Aeschylus, see my charcoal drawing through my tears.




Sketched simply – a few burning lines

will grasp his new millennium –

and bundle courage in a smile

and then release it in a quiet light –

and in the wisdom of the eyes, I’ll draw a twin –

I won’t say whose – a look so near,

so close to him – until you’ll know the father,

and you gasp – sensing the closeness of the world.

And I will thank the hills

in which the bone, the growth, unfolds:

born from grieving mountains and the bitter cost of prisons –

I will say – not Stalin – I will call him Dzhugashvili.




Artist, cherish, shield the warrior –

ring your moist concerns about him

like the resins in dark forests. Do not spark,

enflame the moisture with false paradigms or thinking,

but remember he is with you – help him

think and build and feel. Not I –

nor any other – but the people –

the Homeric – will magnify his epic.

Artist, cherish, shield the warrior –

see how massing in the shadows,

the human forest sings. The future is this wise

man’s comrade – now it listens, now it dares.




Some debts are stirred by deeper claims:

as if his dais were a mountain – he looms

above the mounds of heads. His eyes, the depths

of their surmise, have narrowed onto someone near. The gaze

beneath the thick brow gleams. And I would draw the way

an arrow darts to sketch the mouth – the austere father of

relentless speeches.

Sculpted, puzzling, stern, his eyelids

flicker from a million frames. All

is true – all metallic recognition.

The vigilant ear will tolerate no muting.

Over the living and transported – how readily

they live or die – the play and shades of his expressions furrow.




The fiery charcoal is alive in things – I hold

it in a predatory hand – my image for a warrior’s cry –

a famished hand that reaches for the axis of a likeness.

I crumble charcoal, searching for the face.

I learn from it – not for myself –

I ask no mercy for myself –

if miseries hide the visions in his lofty plans,

I’ll grasp them in the accidents of their offspring…

Then let me be unworthy of a friend –

then let me thirst for loss and tears –

I still will find him in the magic square –

the great coat, the peaked cap – with happy eyes.




Stalin’s eyes are grieving mountains –

far away they squint the fields.

Tomorrow runs from yesterday, an ocean without chafing,

while furrows from his great plough touch the sun.

He smiles – a grinning reaper –

who culls hands in conversations

that begin and last forever

in a field of oaths. And

every sheaf in every barn is bundled,

taut and bound – the living good –

the people’s miracles – the life enlarged –

axised happiness swerved.




And in my six-oathed consciousness I tally

measured witness to his labour, to the struggle,

loss, the harvest – from his journey through the taiga –

past Lenin in October – to the oath’s fulfilment.

In the distance where the mounds of heads

fade, I fade – I will leave unnoticed –

but in generous books, in children playing,

rising from the dead, I say the sun is shining.

No truths are truer than a warrior’s candour:

for courage and for love, for honour and for steel,

there is a given name that glories on my Reader’s

taut lips while we listen, grasping, gasping still.


Translated by Tony Brinkley

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