She knows the river, net and hook,
and hunts it deep as any.
Love opens her a petaled look:
‘I couldn’t care a penny!
You’re better dead.’
She shakes her head:
her angry earrings dance.
She walks in scarf and sarafans
she spins from Northern Light!
No other finger trains her hair
or teaches tress to toss and play,
no other ribbon winds her braid
but the river’s wave!
She moves along the shore
and mends her nets. She beams
a leaping look beneath her brow
like salmons scale a stream!
I stood enchanted at the root
and dared a timid dream of fruit.
But tongues did roll in pub and spire
and toss about her name
and bandy it in crew and choir
and gossip she was tamed.
‘Who bends the wind? Who drowns the rain? ‘
Mad I walked.
‘It’s all a joke! ‘
The townsmen puffed their pipes and spoke
me silent smoke.
‘Who rings her finger? Who braids her hair? ‘
I faced northwest
and asked the air.
Suddenly up by my side
pops a tramp,
sprouted like a tundra toadstool
in the damp.
‘Give me a drink and get an answer
by and by, ‘ says he.
‘I’ll shed a secret on your saucer
like a sprig of tea.’ So,
he drains a glass and drains another
and when my money’s dry,
‘The icy ocean is her lover, ‘
‘And she’s his bride.’
I stood up fierce, my stormy fists
raged to pound his frame,
‘They make a plaything of my pain
for fowl and fish to see,
the deep pike cackles in the river,
the high loon howls at me! ‘
Glasha busies at her boat,
tarring back and side,
and shows the sun her mended sail
stitched to leak no light.
I speak to my heart:
‘Above the wave
the fish leaps and the dipping drake
skims a hungry beak.
For your velvet look I’d lay
the tundra at your feet
and lullaby your tattered coat
to sleep in ermine sheets
and track the fishes’ mating steps
from ocean dance to spawning pool
and catch a salmon in my net
rich with roe of pearls,
and trap you dreams you never dared
and what you wished of wildest fruit
to slake the travels of your boots
through salty sea and scale.
You tricked my lip upon your hook
and lure of flashing teeth,
and now I’m bluffed of coin and keep
and townsmen tell me, drunk and brief,
you’re promised to the sea! ‘
‘I’m his bride.
Look at the river. Restless water
runs beneath the wave
and hastens to the greyer fathoms
where my lover waits. Today
I’ll lift an oar and lure a breeze
to sail me, unannounced, to sea.
I’ll dropp beneath the cloudy night
and hug the thunder of his breast
till all is dark forgetfulness
and dreams of things that come and go
upon the sighing of a pillow
made of porpoises at rest.
I’ll ask my age, I’ll hear him say
that all my turns about the sun
were seventeen salmon in a wave
and seventeen fishscales on a blade.
In rolling thunder
and chilly light
he’ll rumble me his answers
and speak to me of life.
Lad, your words won’t win a wife
for all they’ll ever say of life
when I have heard the sea! ‘
Her ship gained snowy sail at that,
cupped a breeze,
and drew her on a sharp tack
to the sea.
I whispered words I soon forgot
and turned with empty eyes from what
I might have had of life, but for the sea.
And felt the fact dropp like a hook
that caught and drew a moan from me,
‘What will I ever say of life
to ears that heard the sea? ‘
Translated by Anthony Kahn