Marina Tsvetaeva - Leonard Kress

from Podruga (Friend)
Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941)

What did you think—in your gray fox, and me
in sable, snowflakes sticking like little lights—
as we searched the Christmas bazaar for bright
ribbons? I stuffed myself on three,

no six, of those pink unsweetened waffles,
and got all mawkish and sentimental
when you pretended to catch the tail
of a passing chestnut horse—be careful!

And then that old biddy, cawing like a crow,
who cursed at us for passing up her rags—
what do you think she and those other hags
thought—a couple of crazy girls from Moscow?

When everybody left, running for the tram,
we stepped into the church, just to rest,
and you kept staring—you couldn’t resist—
that ancient icon of the Virgin,

her drawn face and sullen eyes,
full of emaciation and blessing,
and the frame with Venus caressing
a chubby cupid with its ties

to the times of Empress Elizabeth.
You dropped my hand and blurted,
“I want her!” and then gently inserted
a long yellow candle into the holder—with

that knowing hand and its opal ring.
Oh, what got into me, what could I do?
I swore I’d steal that icon for you,
I swore that very night I’d bring

it. And so, like a band of marauders
or soldiers—in a rumble of bells and darkness—
innocent as girls in first communion dress,
we broke into the convent guest quarters.

I pledged for you, to grow more beautiful—
until old age. And then I spilled
the salt. Three times you yelled
when I drew the king of hearts, but still

you gave my head a squeeze, and the tips
of my curls felt your fingers trace—
the flower of your brooch touched my face,
the chill enamel on my lips.

How I made your slender finger
scribble up and down my drowsy
cheek—you teased, my little boy,
and said how pleased by that you were...

Translated from Russian by Leonard Kress

Leonard Kress’s recent publications include The Orpheus Complex, Braids & Other Sestinas, and Living in the Candy Store. He has recent work in Harvard Review, Cortland Review, and Crazyhorse. He has also translated the 19th century Polish romantic epic, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz.