[from Joseph Brodsky's A Part of Speech, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1971]
Lullaby of Cape Cod
[ For A.B. ]
The eastern tip of the Empire dives into night;
cicadas fall silent over some empty lawn;
on classic pediments inscriptions dim from the sight
as a finial cross darkens and then is gone
like the nearly empty bottle on the table.
From the empty street's patrol car a refrain
of Ray Charles' keyboard tinkles away like rain.
Crawling to a vacant beach from the vast wet
of ocean, a crab digs into sand laced with sea lather
and sleeps. A giant clock on a brick tower
rattles its scissors. The face is drenched with sweat.
The streetlamps glisten in the stifling weather,
like white shirt buttons open to the waist.
It's stifling. The eye's guided by a blinking stop light
in its journey to the whiskey across the room
on the nightstand. The heart stops dead a moment, but its dull boom
goes on, and the blood, on pilgrimage gone forth,
comes back to a cross road. The body, like an upright,
rolled-up road map, lifts an eyebrow in the North.
It's strange to think of surviving, but that's what happened.
Dust settles on furnishings, and a car bends length
around corners in spite of Euclid. And the deepened
darkness makes up for the absence of people, of voices,
and so forth, and alters them, by its cunning and strength,
not to deserters, to ones who have taken flight,
but rather to those now disappeared from sight.
It's stifling. And the thick leaves' rasping sound
is enough all by itself to make you sweat.
What seems to be a small dot in the dark
could only be one thing -- a star. On the deserted ground
of a basketball court a vagrant bird has set
its fragile egg in the steel hoop's raveled net.
There's a smell of mint now, and of mignonette.
. . .
The door is creaking. A cod stands at the sill.
He asks for a drink, naturally, for God's sake.
You can't refuse a traveler a nip.
You indicate to him which road to take,
a winding highway, and wish him a good trip.
He takes his leave, but his identical
twin has got a salesman's foot in the door.
(The two fish are as duplicate as glasses.)
All night a school of them come visiting.
But people who make their homes along the shore
know how to sleep, have learned how to ignore
the measured tread of these approaching masses.
Sleep. The land beyond you is not round.
It is merely long, with various dip and mound,
its ups and downs. Far longer is the sea.
At times, like a wrinkled forehead, it displays
a rolling wave. And longer still than these
is the strand of matching beads of countless days;
and nights; and beyond these, the blindfold mist,
angels in paradise, demons down in hell.
And longer a hundredfold than all of this
are the thoughts of life, the solitary thought
of death. And ten times that, longer than all,
the queer, vertiginous thought of Nothingness.
But the eye can't see that far. In fact, it must
close down its lid to catch a glimpse of things.
Only this way -- in sleep -- can the eye adjust
to proper vision. Whatever may be in store,
for good or ill, in the dreams that such sleep brings
depends on the sleeper. A cod stands at the door.
1975 / Translated by Anthony Hecht
A Part of Speech