And once again a fisherman’s hut
opening to me late in the night,
suddenly as much a part of me
as the one along whose floor I used to crawl.
Quietly I lay down in the corner
as if it were my old lost place-
that shaky, chinky floor,
whose every knot and crack I knew.
And I was home again, painfully at home,
amid the smells of fish and tobacco,
children, kittens, borscht,
fumes rising, purifying.
Already the room rocked with the fisherman’s snores;
the children already had climbed into their bunks,
their teeth nibbling
on steamy pancakes.
Nobody but the housewife stirred,
A poker, a broom, a needle-
there must always be something in her hands.
Outside a storm was brewing on the Pechora:
you could hear the river seethe.
‘She’s kicking up her heels, ‘ she said,
as if speaking of a coffee-colored cow.
A puff, blowing out the smoky lamp,
left the room to its own darkness.
I could hear the slap-slosh sound
of her laundry chores in the kitchen.
An old clock creaked in the night,
dragging the weight of history.
From the freshly laid kindling
a white fire broke and crackled.
And, full of wonder and fear,
untamed, from the shadows,
eight children’s eyes gleamed
like eight sprays from your waters, Pechora.
They leaned out over their bunks
from an impossibly distant distance,
four little selves (myself)
watching a grown-up, me.
A silent prayer crossed my lips,
as I lay still, pretending to sleep.
And the kitchen noises stopped:
I heard the door squeak open.
And in the depth of solitude,
through the veil of this slumber,
I felt the touch of something
remembered from my childhood.
A sheepskin coat-that’s what it was-
thrown on me snugly, shaggily, warmly;
and a moment later, from the kitchen tub,
the slapping of the clothes again.
I could almost see those hands dancing
through diapers, bed sheets, dungarees,
to the music of all our passions,
to the roar of world events.
Certainly more than one pretentious nonentity
had wormed his rotten way into eternity,
but only this recurring slap-slosh
struck me, in essence, as eternal.
And a teeming sense of fate
like the exhalation of a hut
where life lies heavy on millions of women,
and where-who knows when? –
after the mastery has been won,
a million little selves (myself)
will watch a grown-up, me.
Translated by Stanley Kunitz with Anthony Kahn