Through the museum's silence,
oblivious to the sparse crowd,
I sneak inside a rustic picture,
careful with my every step.
I avoid corners of the gilded frame,
and try to ward off Levitan's brush—
invisible to him, I may cause
a blank spot on his "Village Winter."

Warm in winter boots and parka
I wade in lavish snow
behind a rhythmically nodding horse,
harnessed to a sled
on wobbling wooden wheels
clanking in uneven burrows.

A stooped peasant
trudges heavily near his sad horse.
It will be a long drag in the cold
before he reaches his house
with crackling fire in a brick stove
and hot cabbage soup bubbling on a burner.

Burdened with domestic thoughts,
he lowers his head and has no concern
for the pleasantry of the winter forest.
He does not bother to look up
at the hoarfrosted pines, dark firs,
when a touch of wind sheds
a snow drizzle off their heavy boughs.

Shamed by my detachment from his life's load,
by my leisurely enjoyment of nippy air,
with the last squint at the winter sun
I step out of the painting.
My footprints disappear under snow whirls.

The stroke of time adapts my shoes
to a shiny parquet floor in the museum,
and transports me a couple of centuries forward
back into big buildings, planes, riots and polluted air.

July, '02
Note: Isaak Levitan— The Russian artist


      "I'm floating inside my life
      like Jonah in his dark fish."
      Yehuda Amichai

On the outskirts of Moscow
a stooped figure plods within his thoughts from the bus stop on the corner.

He has never hurried
from his late virginity to a wobbly marriage,
full of stirs and upsets.
Her rowdy verve
and his own jealousy
tired him.
Often alone in the evening, staring
at the strip between tedious buildings,
he thinks of breaking the cycle of indecision.
It is good - he doesn't have to—
she, herself, leaves his life, his world, the country.

He finds someone, different and quiet,
smooth as a fluffy idle cat.
Is she the one?
Maybe a little too dreamy, a little too slow.
Too domestic?

Years pass.
Which is better—
turmoil of the first marriage
or the dull snailing of the second?
Again he is alone
between his science and a carload of dreams,
lost amidst his uncertainty.
He can't even decide whether it is time or not
to flatten against the retiring armchair.

The sound of his rattling keys shakes off
his disquieting thoughts of his life passing by.

October, '02


In one of my previous lives I think I was a cat,
downy, with long soft fur—
I don't know - domestic or wild (maybe both).

When the inner stream of energy
overflows and carries my yearning body,
I run and bounce within joy like a hot-air ball.

My limber back arches and ebbs
under long firm fingers
that rub my back and fondle neck and ears.

I like to hear words that wrap me in fragrance -
"My little kitten"— even though I am not—
I am a big, pleasure-seeking creature.

I like when a tender possessing hand
moves slowly along my spine -
I purr and flex— thrill shoots through my legs.

I like to stretch flatly on a rug
under the spell of lingering caress
and, in the dark of closed eyes, foretaste my reward.

August, '02


Behind a mirror sliding door
the closet within his winter silence
keeps dresses and business suits
zipped in plastic translucent bags.

I am retired, what do I actually need?
No suits, no wool, no silk—
some pants, jackets, summer dresses,
a few fancy, but mostly stretchy, comfy;
with the rest I fill boxes for the Salvation Army.

In the basement,
a few suitcases slumber along the wall.
Some of them I'll give away— I don't travel anymore.

I am not a collector.
I throw out things unused without qualm,
but not my old LPs, brought from Russia.
When I touch them
the warmth flows up to my throat.
I don't have a turntable,
but cannot throw them away.
Each record has its own place in my past -
joyous and sad— my love, miles-and-years away,
Gypsy songs, Georgian ballads,
old movies' sound tracks,
best actors reading Russian poetry.

They doze in the basement all year-round,
and my aging heart holds onto their muted sound.

July, '02


Can I name lies clustered in my rib cage
those that fill the space between us?
They are like dark silt, marsh water
I wade through, sinking with every step,
and you— I cannot reach across.

If only I get the courage to drain them out,
what will be left between you and me?
There is always fear of losing you into emptiness.
I will try to fill the void.

I will try to find a true spring
to cleanse
the dirt and sap and sod
between our souls and the future.
We will drink its newness,
get tipsy, dizzy, happy.

We become vulnerable,
open for hurts and wounds.
How to make us immune
to both the sterile truth and grimy lies?

July, '02


Who are you in the crowd
under gazes of strangers.
You are someone else.

In the cage of self-perception,
alone, in the room, before the mirror,
you see your pale flesh, overthickened thighs,
or in bed, peering at the ceiling,
your breasts, hung on both sides…
You cannot bear the cruelty of passing time,
lingered on your neck's wrinkles
and flabby upper arms.
Not because of you. No.
You hate yourself for others' look,
which they, kindly, try to hide.

It takes the whole life's courage
just to look inside your own eyes.

July, '02 (Little Pond, PA)

Natalia Zaretsky's poems have been published in Iliad Press, Unmade Magazine, Sunflower Petals, Sensation Magazine, and Poetry. Two of her poems were Poetry Magazine contest finalists. RBC Publishing Co. issued her first book of poetry, Autumn Solstice.

email Natalia

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