Grasping at Straws, Dmitry Blizniuk

Marilyn Higginson, Full Moon, Oil on Wrapped Canvas


И мечта старится, как собака,
но ты продолжаешь делить с ней кров, чесать за ухом,
и баловать вареной курицей по выходным.
Ты не будешь уже молодым.
Депрессия – это когда превращаешься в человека-шифоньер
и начинаешь шарить, копошиться в себе,
выдвигаешь пустые ящики с грохотом из груди и печени,
ищешь там серебряную монету 1924 года – с рабочим-молотобойцем,
но монеты нигде нет, а на улице уже глубокая ночь,
и протяжный вой ротвейлера,
будто эскалатор с плавно ползущими ступеньками
не дотягивает до сливочной луны – едва-едва.
Но монеты нет, ты ограблен и деревья-рыцари на конях тьмы
окружают тебя, тьма плещется,
заставляет переливаться через края,
и границы тела растворяются,
и ты растекаешься в пространстве
нефтяным пятном по ночному морю.
И – будто тонущий за соломинку –
касаешься клавиатуры.

 

Grasping at Straws

(translated by Sergey Gerasimov from Russian)

Your dream grows old too, like a dog.
But you keep sharing an apartment with it, scratching it behind the ear,
treating it to boiled chicken on the weekends.
You will never be young again.
Depression means that you turn into a human wardrobe
and start fumbling, rummaging in yourself.
You open empty drawers in your heart and liver,
and look there for a 1924 silver coin, with a hammer and anvil.
But it’s not there: it’s long past midnight
and a monotonous howl of a Rottweiler
goes up and up like a slowly moving escalator
and nearly reaches the moon.
The coin is not there:
you’ve been robbed, and the knights of trees
surround you, on the horses of darkness.
The darkness ripples,
overflows.
The surface of your body dissolves.
You spread like an oil spill across the night sea.
And – grasping at straws –
you touch the keyboard.

_________________________
Dmitry Blizniuk

 

Review by Jae Dyche

The handling of metaphorical conceit in this poem is spectacular. It doesn’t feel trite or overthought, but as natural as its subject of aging.  However, beyond its unflinching gaze on the subject, I find the ending most striking and unexpected: these desperate, phantasmal fingers at the keyboard after all else is lost.

 

Review by Jared Pearce

The controlling metaphor is very fine: we do, it seems, resemble walking cabinets, chests of drawers. And the missing coin, symbol for that little value, that glimmering part of our lives, has been robbed, lost, and the fun, though futile, or so it seems, act of writing that will attempt to put that silver back in one’s heart. I say futile because of the clipped feeling of the ending, of the taking of that keyboard; should there have been some kind of guarantee, then perhaps writing or keyboarding would have a further sense of redemption. But, as it is, the last two lines stab and do not answer the concern regarding whether or not any good will come, if the coin can be retrieved, if the monotony can be relieved: it’s guesswork with few, if any, guarantees.

 

Review by Michael Derrick Hudson

So what’s it about?  This is the kind of poem that might seem baffling, or at least strange at first reading.  But it is not baffling – though like most good poems, it is a bit strange.  Aging and perhaps writing, I’d suggest, but paraphrases are crutches and this poem stands alone.  A few stray thoughts on how it goes so right here…

For years I’ve been trying to incorporate a coin into a poem.  I love coins – there is something so fundamental about them and yet so intransigent about them.  Short of destroying them (not so easy to do, given the melting point of most metals) all you can do is spend them or collect/hoard them.  They will be around long after you are gone, so in a way, they are mocking you.  Drop a nickel down a storm drain and there is a chance alien archaeologists will dredge it up 5000 years from now as they pick through the blasted wasteland that was once Earth.  There’ll be a lot more nickel left than there will be of me and you, I’d bet.

So Dmitry Blizniuk’s poem takes a coin – a rather interesting and real one, the only circulating silver coinage of the Soviet Union, a 1924 silver ruble (or half ruble) and incorporates it into a poem – incorporates it effectively, without fuss, employing a surrealistic dreamscape to boot – which is hard to do without sounding like all the other dreamscape poems that have been inflicted on you over the course of your reading life.  Which leads me to my highest compliment:  I am jealous.

Do your dreams grow old too?  I’d never thought of it this way, but yeah, my dreams have grown old – they have a kind of settled-in aspect – even the disturbing ones – with familiar landscapes made up of bits of all the places I’ve ever lived.  Maps to nonexistent streets and buildings, to the point where dream-me thinks to its dream-self, “Let’s go over there – we haven’t been there in a while.”  For now it is kind of fun, but ten or twenty years from now, who knows what weariness I’ll find in my dreamscapes?   This poem points the way – depressing, sure, but there is wit here too.  A fine balance indeed.

Another interesting thing about this poem is the use of a cliché for both the title and last line.  Normally, writers are advised to avoid clichés “at all cost” (to use a cliché).  But cliché can be very useful if skillfully employed – as I believe they are here.