There was no direct route by which I came to write – will continue to write – this series of poems; but an indirect one I stumbled on while reading Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, and Lermontov. Something of their beguiling chemistry infiltrated my own, being not entirely of the mind but also of the heart, culture, folklore, and landscape that fused to create the material for a sub-world in which I wanted to write a story. This story became A Love Poem.
The poems were not conceived in any chronological order but came to me randomly over five years. In the earliest drafts only two or three of the poems appeared as tercets. One or two arrived in block, others in quatrain or couplets. The decision to use the tercet form throughout the series was a recent choice and one I hope most readers will be persuaded, at least for this series, was the right one.
A Love Poem
Marina Begins A New Life
There are too many donkeys in the world Ivan mumbled,
checking yet again the safety of his five roubles, observing
at the end of a short rope, a little island
of sadness he’d love till the end of his days.
Yes…too many donkeys… and fewer roubles.
Yet, if Ivan’s offer was miserable, also welcomed with the
exuberance of one ridding
them self of an ever increasing burden.
Thus the union between Ivan and his donkey began with the
removal of the rope
and she by giving a backward kick
to inform her new master, she’d no intention
of joining him, until feasted for a journey she’d no idea to where.
The Naming of Marina
Ideas with the scent of roses
white as the snow on Mount Elbrus
would leap unannounced into Ivan’s head:
Donkey, we must find you a name!
But the creature’s interest was elsewhere
enjoying the fruits of the forest.
Natalya! the name suddenly
freeing itself from the back
of Ivan’s mind: Natalya …Natalya…
But the donkey’s head remained
committed to the one pleasure
pursued since early that morning.
Had she understood and possessed
instead of callused legs, the arms
and green eyes of the young
Natalya, she might have placed
those arms around his shoulders
to show she was already in love with him.
But understanding none of this
knew only that
when the sound resonated
through the sweet grass…Marina…Marina…
her head without compromise
lifted from the forest floor.
While Marina Rests
Natalya cursed as she dropped pegs
into a basket and tightened an over-laundered
head scarf that had worked itself free.
What do children remember of all this…
she sighed as Ivan brought
the last log into the yard, her words
stirring up memories of their childhood,
a time when he was excluded
from the village games.
Natalya a green eyed goddess
with hair like plaited corn
tied in a rainbow of trailing ribbons.
If you go any slower Ivan
you’ll catch tomorrow’s sunshine…
she’d call after him.
Turning towards the gate
he half smiled, half regretted
having to take her fifty kopecks.
Her eyes followed as though
observing the flight of a young woodpecker
fluttering up onto the cart.
Ivan resisted all temptation to look back, lest
she became aware of the direction
his thoughts had taken them.
Winter Comes to Marina’s Yard
Behind a filigree of snow a cockerel
calls from its coop; hens in muted labour
sullen in their chilly ruffs.
Ivan’s coat has slipped from Marina’s back
exposing a mosaic of crystals; her ears
hung like fragments of frozen velvet.
Over the hut, at irregular intervals, a spire
of smoke rises from a makeshift pipe
fed from a wood pile deep below ice.
Through the frosted window Ivan peers out
to the gloom that is Marina, carved
in white marble, calling to her, I’ll build you a shed…
His voice causing the seals across
her eyes to shatter, as first one buried foot
and then another…brings her to his door.
Marina had become the single event
out of which all the happiness
Ivan had ever experienced blossomed.
When they stood at the edge of a ravine
he would catch below in the shape of her ears
a little part of their love.
Before Marina, the sky was no more
than a slowly rotating roof
that kept him dry or wet in turn.
But now, walking with his friend
in sleeveless shirt or in winter coat,
the sky was a halo of her making.
Marina Finally Gets Her Wish
On the day the last length of timber
slotted into place and fresh leaves
covered the floor, Ivan stood apart
to admire the fruit of his labour,
a task that had taken the entire summer
and in which, Marina, had shown
not a moment’s interest; not even
the fleeting glance she gave to the robin
or the blackbird straining
to pull worms from the sodden earth.
Only slowly did her curiosity
begin to show. Her eyes –
attendant to the swelling buds
on the apple and cherry trees
and later the rustling of the white
and pink blossom that heralds
the sweetness she believed her tongue
alone was created for –
only then, on that final day, did they
explore the contours of this
majestic object towards which
she felt an instant kinship.
And had she been asked to specify
her interest, she would have said
If my master was to create anything
so beautiful for me, this is exactly how
I would ask him to build me a shed.
Marina Listens to Ivan Addressing the Stars
What god created you? Was it
the red heart of Christ? A command
of Allah? The will of the Buddha
to adorn his temple? Ivan asked,
yet incomprehensible of gods
who continued to tear mankind apart.
From the fruit of the tree – under which
Marina stood with a ring of campions
around her neck – a star dropped
into the grass anchoring Ivan’s thoughts
to the realization he was in the presence
of the one true deity.
Marina Says Goodbye to Ivan
One morning Ivan discovered
the loss of his most precious possession,
and one he could never replace.
Five days it took to dig a hole
large enough to contain it.
Then, gently as he could, he pulled
on the rope he had attached
to the top of Marina’s hind legs,
coaxing her to try harder…
Come Marina, a little less stubbiness.
Until grim from the sweat of grief,
they reached her resting place.
Under the swaying blossom
of her favourite tree – and gently
as what remaining strength allowed –
he watched each part of his beloved Marina
disappear from the heaven
she had created for them both.
Nor in the ensuing seasons could he
pass this spot without calling
And good morning to you also Marina.
And this is where our journey ends.
For whatever time was left to Ivan
the following lines are the only account.
Natalya Remembers Ivan
It was general knowledge Ivan
had little sense worth keeping; yet he kept it
all the same for it was all he had.
His only desire was that one day
he’d find a wife who’d love him more
than he had wit to imagine.
But if not a wife…why not a donkey
who would accompany him
along the spine of the Caucasus?
Truth was he never left the province
of his birth, and no woman ever
spoke to him a sentence longer than
“Good morning to you also Ivan,”
or “Thank you Ivan, but I’ll not be going
in your direction after all…”
So he turned to his one friend, Nature
to escape the taunts of the villagers
who called his loneliness The madness of Ivan.
On the morning of his final birthday,
his two disappointments were
that no woman had ever loved him
and that his only friend, Marina,
for all her wisdom, never knew
she had the voice of an angel.