Bella Akhmadulina: Music lessons

I like, Marina, that you were, like all,
that you – like me – I am, my larynx frozen,
not saying: You – like light! like evenfall! –
but as if choked on ice, my struggling bosom
is trying to exhale: You were, like all,
taught music lessons. (Oh, absurd of schooling!
As if, to God's amusement and appall,
a magnet were instilled with rules of pulling.)

Two darknesses would hardly get along:
You and the piano, two complete dimensions,
two aliens to one another's songs,
two rivals jointly serving their detention.

Two stubborn sullennesses are opposed
in an insoluble, unfriendly silence:
You and the grand – two powers of the pause,
Two fragile instruments of vocal science.

Your orphanhood is the head start that tips
the scales. For, what's a piano but a captive  
of voicelessness, until an ally dips
his fingertips into diminished Septimes.

And you are –  solo. You yourself suffice.
And music finds your recipe misleading:
Not conjuring an injuring device,
to let the cords reveal acoustic bleeding.

Marina - fore! Fore destiny, and sin,
fore youth, and voice, and poetry, and prose,
we both, together bowed our foreheads in
that childhood-wide before-a-piano pose,
like you, like you, hands clinging to the stool –
Oh, metronome, don't wag your angry finger! –
to circle right, and left, and upward too,
and on the very edge of falling linger...

Marina, this has been – don't misconstrue
my silly aim – designed in vain, in trying
for once to cry enough: like you, like you!
And I would love to, but instead, I'm crying.

Translated by Alexander Givental and Elysee Wilson-Egolf


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