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No Choice

And half tenderly, half lazily,
With a kiss you brushed my hand—
And the eyes of mysterious, ancient faces
Gazed at me…

—Anna Akhmatova, “Confusion”

A sound comes up from the northern woods,

dark and sugary. Maybe, I think, not sure,

it’s only a goshawk. Yet maybe, just maybe

a Russian boy who jumped off the top of a tree

with his umbrella open, like sky above steppe,

and landed to the applause of the grass and,

without skipping a beat, picked up a tremulous

tune. I have to pass it on—but how? I’m not

saying it doesn’t make sense to stay at home

between books and the kids, yet I tend to forget

it escapes me, the summer league results,

for example, but I remember a teapot of clay

and the perfect patchwork stains on its circular

lip. I cover them with my tongue. I’m as precise

in my daily routine as the bell of a suburban

church, of equal ease to travelers and locals,

hatching plans for action among the extended

evening shadows. Yes? No? I don’t know, I have

no idea. All I know is that butterflies, freed

from tapestries, would not survive on their own, unless

for paper peddlers pedaling through alleys of trees,

these postmen of lightest sleep, as the dead poet

would have said, tossing out rolled-up bundles

of news, subscribers can’t read them, written

in the language of forgotten tribes who lived here

well before. They put their warriors in burial grounds

and committed their women to ash. They rule after death

and newspaper editorials keep praising them, until the cry

of a newborn breaks into guffaw. Yes? No? No choice.

Under an umbrella, I write the lines a soldier sings.

from Without AnesthesiaFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Published in Ales Debeljak Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.