by Osip Mandelstam
The bread is blight and the air’s acetylene,
Wounds impossible to doctor.
Joseph, by his own blood bartered
Off to Egypt, grieved for home no harder.
Unslaked sky. Sleetlight of stars.
And the stallioned Bedouins, avatars
Of the day’s vagueness, and the pain
Of vagueness, close their eyes and improvise
Out of nothing more than the mist
Of events through which they’ve passed:
Coarse wind, a horse traded for grain, small wars
With sand in which an arrow was lost.
And if the song’s in search of earth, and if the song’s
Ensouled, then everything vanishes
To void, and the stars by which it’s known,
And the voice that lets it all be and be gone.
Translated by Christian Wiman