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  • Séance, and from the Cycle “Seventeenth”
  • Vladimir Narbut (bio)
    —translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale


The world for me has always been more transparent than water.These charlatans—I thought—are playing us for chumps.But yesterday, the traces of an antediluvian fear were,like open sores, flushed out of my soul by this medium.

It all started innocently enough, but then carried onand on—rocking this way and that—a hurly-burly dance:the oak table, coffin-like, levitated toward the ceiling,the yellow gauzy curtains undulated above the windows,

and a little bronze bell chimed and chimed, as though longlocked up in a crypt, now being accidentally tolled.Two youths emerged onto the path washed by the steady cold,swaddled in a blanket of snow as in a burial cloth.

Decapitated, they glided carrying their heads in frontof them in their hands, and their green eyes shonelike a handful of emeralds—those dragon tears—the color of shallows, water caught in a receding tide.

And then they vanished—and all went dark.And the spirit of evil, demolishing-demolishing materialized.Even the red lantern above the table did not flare outbut turned black, like an egg pecked by a chick from within.

Do not, do not!—someone’s gaze crawling down my back—a woman, squealing, darting like a bird, became hysterical.I also was haunted by the brushing of a paw . . . Gas streamingout of the horns—and we, washed up on some bright shore.

Good Lord, how swell this is—a friend remarked,passing his fluttering fingers over his face.Beyond the shutters dissipated a slumbering hum:perhaps midnight was wrestling with its residents. [End Page 134]

In the living room—having dared to thread throughbody and soul, as though a cable, the dread sensation,exhausted, I couldn’t manage to overcome the threateningirritation brought on by the tumultuous storm.

And, irrevocably, they carried on as before—the two youths beheaded by someone in eternity—in the flaring gaze of his veil drawn on our sphere,flung down upon the earth, and poisoned by decay.

1913 [End Page 135]

From the Cycle “Seventeenth”


Gusting wind more terrible than songs,ringing in the hand-blown glass windows,Where do you wish them to stroll with you,October, when the sky is thick with blood?

Hunched over and nearly blind, patteringthe road in front with a walking stick,which wound will you attempt to stanchwith cotton, splash it with what flood?

In uniforms—lice, in the heart—faith,and the path is pitted with potholes;not from a bayonet but from a bulletmay it be that I will meet my end.

The wind is terrifying. It humspersistently making the windows ring.Staring unblinkingly, the house catpaws and teases at the blank horizon.

Fixing patently the glasses on your noseand smoothing out a wayward lock of hair,exhaling deeply over that which must be lostanyway but has just now irrevocably passed—

you suddenly shook off the dozing lethargyfrom the tumor inside the upturned eyelidsand (Zinger’s turning over in his grave)—Gatling guns like needles stitch the epoch.

In the smoke dimming—“Peace!” “Bread!”—The days spread open wide their two wings.Happiness spans half the sky, its rainbowlike a tightly knitted, drooping eyebrow. [End Page 136]

What has happened to that voiceless songthat had resounded in the frozen window?The crowds of chesty soldiers and sailorsramble muttering, carousing merrily-merrily:

the Smol’nyi palace burns all day and night.An armored vehicle rolls up and parks,and from it, a blasphemous and slightlyslant-eyed Bolshevik holds forth and speaks.

And the old world under the red flag—standing behind the party—you walkstep in step with the International,distributing leaflets and decrees.

1918 [End Page 137]

Vladimir Narbut

Vladimir Narbut (1888–1944[?]) was a Russian poet of Ukrainian descent whose first collection, Alliluia (Hallelujah, 1912), satirized the landed gentry, and was seized by the police. After the February Revolution of 1917, Narbut joined the Bolsheviks, and held a series of political and...


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