In Moscow with Mandelstam
I’m getting to know Mandelstam
and his careful, monochrome voice;
his slow, uncertain steps and turns
through Moscow’s new times and sights.
This morning he greets me and hangs
his head, the winter sun spinning
off the bald dome. I join him
on his cold bench in Neskuchny Park.
Now and again he takes my hand
in his own, arachnid old and thin,
and squeezes it so gently
to stress a point or find comfort.
His voice often grows weak. And fails.
Dejected by these moments
he tosses bread crumbs at the birds.
They fight each other for morsels
the poet flings each time he gives up
on Time, the Time of God’s tread.
A light cough, and he speaks again,
soft, but clear. So, as the meagre sun
stalks the heart of the sky, we talk
and talk past noon. His hands hint at
outlines and sniff the corners
as he describes how Time recoils
in the alleys of this town.
But he shakes his head. And stares.
Today he has once more failed
to capture Time, to freeze the clocks.
I know that plea in his hand’s grip,
the sigh, the sudden loss of speech.
And when sun steeps the Moscow sky
in weak tea, Mandelstam pats my leg:
“Sunday, we’ll feed the birds again.”
Hunched over, he shuffles away.
The birds too already left.
Soon, the distance and the dusk
will set my friend, Mandelstam,
vibrating: a dark tuning fork
that stalks the sounding board of Time,
that hums continually its end.