Friday, June 01, 2007

Reading. Yevtushenko.

I came home, late, to find a carton of books waiting for me at the front desk. Suddenly, the cares and exhaustions and pains of the day fell away; I bounded into the elevator with my brown cardboard box. It felt light in my hands, surprisingly, and soon I found myself sitting on the cool marble of my front hallway, the books piled around me. This is my favorite part of the day, when I come home to find a package and a slightly bemused phone message from the morning concierge. Miss Yao, I have...[slight pause]...a couple of packages for you here. This is the latest haul, the latest binge from one of my favorite bookstores, all smelling of aged paper the way used books smelled of old paper and glue, other peoples' names scribbled inside the covers. I have some volumes by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, whom I have lately been reading with an unexpected fervor; I turn to Almost at the End (a first edition, it is signed by the auther, a scrawled Yevtushenko on the fly-leaf, with a sickle, a man, and a cross - or is it a star? - beneath the name).

The first poem, I Would Like, gives me the feeling of an electric shock (I regret that I cannot reproduce the spacing of his words; they move in a jagged line across and down the page):

I would like
to be born
in every country,
have a passport
for them all
to throw
all foreign offices
into panic,
be every fish
in every ocean
and every dog
in the streets of the world.
I don�t want to bow down
before any idols
or play at being
a Russian Orthodox church hippie,
but I would like to plunge
deep into Lake Baikal
and surface snorting
why not in the Mississippi?
In my damned beloved universe
I would like
to be a lonely weed,
but not a delicate Narcissus
kissing his own mug
in the mirror.
I would like to be
any of God�s creatures
right down to the last mangy hyena--
but never a tyrant
or even the cat of a tyrant.
I would like to be
reincarnated as a man
in any image:
a victim of prison tortures,
a homeless child in the slums of Hong Kong,
a living skeleton in Bangladesh,
a holy beggar in Tibet,
a black in Cape Town,
but never
in the image of Rambo.
The only people whom I hate
are the hypocrites--
pickled hyenas
in heavy syrup.
I would like to lie
under the knives of all the surgeons in the world,
be hunchbacked, blind,
suffer all kinds of diseases,
wounds and scars,
be a victim of war,
or a sweeper of cigarette butts,
just so a filthy microbe of superiority
doesn�t creep inside.
I would not like to be in the elite,
nor, of course,
in the cowardly herd,
nor be a guard dog of that herd,
nor a shepherd,
sheltered by that herd.
And I would like happiness,
but not at the expense of the unhappy,
and I would like freedom,
but not at the expense of the unfree.
I would like to love
all the women in the world,
and I would like to be a woman, too--
just once...
Men have been diminished
by Mother Nature.
Why couldn�t we give motherhood
to men?
If an innocent child
below his heart,
man would probably
not be so cruel.
I would like to be man�s daily bread--
a cup of rice
for a Vietnamese woman in mourning,
cheap wine
in a Neapolitan workers� trattoria,
or a tiny tube of cheese
in orbit round the moon.
Let them eat me,
let them drink me,
only let my death
be of some use.
I would like to belong to all times,
shock all history so much
that it would be amazed
what a smart aleck I was.
I would like to bring Nefertiti
to Pushkin in a troika.
I would like to increase
the space of a moment
a hundredfold,
so that in the same moment
I could drink vodka with fishermen in Siberia
and sit together with Homer,
and Tolstoy,
drinking anything,
except, of course,
--dance to the tom-toms in the Congo,
--strike at Renault,
--chase a ball with Brazilian boys
at Copacabana Beach.
I would like to know every language,
like the secret waters under the earth,
and do all kinds of work at once.
I would make sure
that one Yevtushenko was merely a poet,
the second--an underground fighter
I couldn�t say where
for security reasons,
the third--a student at Berkeley,
the fourth--a jolly Georgian drinker,
and the fifth--
maybe a teacher of Eskimo children in Alaska,
the sixth--
a young president,
somewhere, say, modestly speaking, in Sierra Leone,
the seventh--
would still be shaking a rattle in his stroller,
and the tenth...
the hundredth...
the millionth...
For me it�s not enough to be myself,
let me be everyone!
Every creature
usually has a double,
but God was stingy
with the carbon paper,
and in his Paradise Publishing Corporation
made a unique copy of me.
But I shall muddle up
all God�s cards--
I shall confound God!
I shall be in a thousand copies to the end of my days,
so that the earth buzzes with me,
and computers go berserk
in the world census of me.
I would like to fight on all your barricades,
dying each night
like an exhausted moon,
and resurrecting each morning
like a newborn sun,
with an immortal soft spot--fontanel--
on my head.
And when I die,
a smart-aleck Siberian Francois Villon,
do not lay me in the earth
of France
or Italy,
but in our Russian, Siberian earth,
on a still-green hill,
where I first felt
that I was

Yevtushenko, Yevgeny. Almost at the End. Henry Holt and Company, 1987. pp 1-5.

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