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Contemporary Poets

Spring, 2004

Robert Bohm



"My whisper was born before my lips...."

A fist strikes the door. Or is it the thud
the heart makes when fresh snow's glimpsed
at one a.m. on a poplar branch?

"It's for him," the wife said knowingly. The distant Urals'
silence spread like an implication. A ghost horse
dragged his dead mother's piano to the river.

He knew things. This, for instance: the hog mind's lyrical stillness
as the animal eats trough slop. "Sad but beautiful," he thought.
Men in overcoats searched the apartment, took him. Brodsky watched.

Released months later, dying's science eluded him. Rats in a tenement,
the years hunted dozing infants' skulls. His heart, a Jerusalem
aflame in a snowstorm. Outside, the ragged scurried in alleys.

Arrested again in three years, he waited, thin
and unrecognizable, in the transit camp. Too ill
to talk straight, he spat blood not words.

Having found the right vocabulary, he didn't
live to use it. The arctic whiteness would have triumphed
anyway. In Kolyma district, a snow of bones. Ice's ideal clarity.

*Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), Russian poet imprisoned by Stalin.
  Died in transit on the way to a labor camp in northeastern Siberia.