Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Devushka in Far Off Kostoma, Russia

This week I received the winning entry of a contest held in the Gymnasium (secondary school) No. 28 in Kostroma, Russia.

Her name is Lavrova Varvara, and she is in class 9A.  The contest was arranged by Tatiana Podvetelnikova, a librarian in the Kostroma Regional Library in Kostroma.  The winning lines I will give below in bold.  I tried to copy the Russian but it wouldn't copy.  Here's today's poem.  Lavrova got into it.  Judy


Can Flowers Change Your Life? IX.  February 14, 2016

For Tatiana Podvetelnikova and Lavrova Varvara

The ground is hard like iron with cold.
I squeeze sideways into the coop
to bring warm water.  The hens
flutter around me and then drink.
We have sun, but no wind, sleet, 
or rain until tomorrow.  The cold
has its own power.  I sleep under six
layers, wear seven, drink hot lemon
tea, search my mind for that new 
revelation of my lifetime work and
purpose.  I do it every day but don’t
reflect much until I take the time to
do that and only that.  Revelations
mean work, comforting the fearful,
reassuring myself and others;
accepting gifts and giving away
my food and thought, hope and love.
For that there is always enough time.
A young Russian girl, a devushka
in far off Kostroma, translates lines
from my poem This River and wins
a prize: my congratulations.  More
than twenty-five years ago I sat
with you in the set for the filming
of The Snow Maiden.  It was August
and we were warm.  Our conversation
warmed us even more.  Now you are
gone, and this memory is mine alone.
No.  There’s the young woman in
Kostroma who found the words in
Russian to save a little of it.  We never
know when our words will travel
through time and last even two
generations, much less, three.
The snow maiden melted after she
fell in love, but my words became
winged and stirred hearts beyond
mine and yours.


From This River: An Epic Love Poem, published in 2014 by Wild Embers Press.  $14, $17 with postage and tax. to PO Box 253, Moncure, NC 27559


In a bottle I found washed in by the river
I have put four yellow narcissus.  They are
my sun today on a winter afternoon.  Below
this vase on the window ledge are the birch
shoes you gave me.  Beside them is the 
open book with its blank pages, which
Victor gave me.  Its stone is from Siberia.
On the other side of the shoes is a small
gift from Galina, a painting of Berendevka,
the film set for “The Snow Maiden,”
which you took us to visit.  There was no
snow then.  We sat in the shelter of a
house that had no inside.  We made
the inside live with our conversation. 
You and my son talked about fathers
and sons, while I listened and Natasha
translated.  I learned that day how you
have mastered self-restraint when
people infuriate you.  My son talked freely; 
how he wanted to punch the man who 
had been rude to your son the night
before.  You admitted he had made you
angry, too, but you remembered he was
an old man.  I knew then that you had 
often had to master your passions, also 
that you had never killed them off.  You 
knew how he felt.  Whatever winter
there is there, bleak, with grey skies,
bitter cold, ice, the land held white
in its iron grip, I know there is also
a room in your life where you keep
yellow narcissus, their trumpets as
lasting as white Siberian stone.  
Ice stiffens them sometimes, and
they fall.  If it snows, you must bring
them indoors.  But year after year
they thrust their way through the grass
at the foot of the hill, large clumps
of them.  As early as January, they
announce the return of the spring.
I think of Achilles, wandering in
the meadow where the good dead wait.
Achilles among the daffodils, wishing
he were a servant in his father’s house.
He didn’t want to lord it over all the
dead.  Daffodils are my lifeline.  They
endure the sleet and ice, the death we
all must give.
At the bottom of the hill 
there was a house once.  Buttercups
brightened its yard.  Now they brighten
my winter walks down the hill to the
river.  My heart is suddenly light.
The sun lies scattered like leaves dazzling
a surface the wind rakes, then turns
to gold, while the pure blue of the sky
holds its exuberance in check.  Where
has that leaden sky gone, all those
days of impenetrable muddy water?  Why
now is there as much blue rising out of
the river’s depth as I could ask for, 
as much gold conversion singing the song
the daffodils sing, only louder, as if fluid
gold swept sparkling toward me were
the last piece of evidence I needed to 
know that you love me, and not fleetingly,
which would be understandable, given
our circumstances?  No, it’s as though
there were yellow narcissus blooming
right out of the pages of your letters.
I could put them beside the little shoes
of birch.  They would be happy there
with the polished Siberian stone and 
the old bottle I put flowers in. You 
have found a way to pass right through 
the language barrier, with my translator 
being no wiser, and get me your 
messages, like yellow narcissus
first poking up their green thumbs
through dead leaves and matted grass
roots.  Then a bud forms at the stalk’s
end.  As it lengthens, the yellow
trumpet opens: “Here I am again, a sun 
you didn’t expect to find that has 
waited underground for these six months.
And now I must declare my love.”
This must be why, at odd moments,
a sudden happiness lifts itself up in my
soul like the daffodils lift their bonnets
from the plainest possible soil.  I don’t
understand where it comes from.  I’ve
never had underground vibrancy before.
Once I would have shouted it to anyone 
who would listen and then captured its 
rhythm in a poem.  In the end I’d be
left with nothing but poems.  This time
the river sends me a different message.
Winter skies do not deter this blooming,
nor does the river hesitate to startle me
with gold, reminding me that my heart
harbors daffodils now, and the river
radiance is like a song which repeats
itself, without my starting to sing, 

over and over, without sound.

You may be able to learn more about this contest on Facebook.  Here's  a link Tatiana sent me when they were voting there on which was the best translation.  Judy Hogan

the piece of your poem is translated by students of Kostroma Gymnasium #28. Now there is a vote on Facebook, then we’ll choose the best translations and the students get your congratulations with the signature.


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