Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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translation from Chinese by Dong Li

The Death of Osip Mandelstam

if he died a peaceful natural death
with painless pure mystery
leaving people not to protest in grief
but to linger in the splendor of his poetry
if the assassins were not a step faster
in whichever clever ways
to strip him off his golden singing voice
then the writing hand of this poem would not tremble
no! his death was declared in a haste
in rehashed words
which still casts shadows after half a century
and attests (as Joseph Brodsky said)
to the Laws of Gravity—a black hole
where all humanity is sucked
and a person disappears under the sun
this is yet not difficult, with time and space
with a system operated by a giant
even steel ribs would bend
let us remember the evil age
on a planet where poets dwell, the hornet nest
of a clamorous age already roils
fists of a tyrant rub out cinders
everywhere, a new escape begins anew
yet here was Vladivostok on the horizon
in a concentration camp near Kolyma
people shut the door leaving him on the bed
as everything was leaving him
even pain would soon renounce him
sorrow no longer groped his left ventricle
a fugitive, on the edge of an empire
alone to bear a most bizarre destiny
hands stretched out to touch the imaginary land
unwillingly with mixed feelings
a man without even a handful of dirt in life
would in death
be welcomed by the earth
what to regret? death is no longer a surprise
dear assassins, now shall you become so amicable!
higher up, his constellation watches everything from above
and blows the last flame into his body
to warm his soul that is numb from the cold
even with one last breath his entire being
still sings the vast burning night sky
like before, like a swallow
that sings in the acceleration of flight
the night sky of a winter day in 1938
obscure like the night of Final Judgment
pale light, imperishable light
dripped onto a Moscow window
inside, a lady was already asleep
the tears on her cheeks had not dried
on the table, an unsent letter filled
with small scribbles of despairing love
“It’s me, Nadja. Where are you? So long!”  

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