Russell Bittner is a poet/writer who conducts interviews for the Poet's Corner section of Long Story Short (www.alongstoryshort.net). His poems have
been published in The Lyric, Trinacria, The Raintown Review, and elsewhere in print and on the Internet. His novel
Trompe-l'oeil can be purchased at Amazon by clicking the hyperlinked title.
A Letter to My Mother
by Sergei Yesenin
translated by Russell Bittner
Hallo one last time, dearest mother of mine,
I trust that you're keeping my bed
as white as our birches; as starched as our pine;
as clear as our sky overhead.
The rumour now runs: my old mother misses
some devil—apparently me.
That devil, in truth, remembers her kisses,
her ratty old coat and her tea.
Some evenings, I'll wager, the vision's perverse:
a tavern; your boy in a brawl
with sailors whose cunning eviscerates; worse:
his verse comes to rest on a wall.
Now pause for a moment to think this one through;
and tell me I've failed to comply
with wending what may not seem homeward to you,
but is, with a kiss, on the fly.
I think rather not—and trust you'll make haste
to give this old rumour the lie.
The truth is I'm homesick and don't want to waste
one swinish night more in this sty.
In spring, I'll come running back home to your arms
outstretched, bearing handfuls of sage,
if you'll just relinquish those motherly charms
that can't come to grips with my age
and leave me to suffer my hedonist's binge
on wine-baited women and song,
the better to serve them my head on a fringe
of lace—as they've asked all along.
But please don't suggest that redemption and grace
can somehow be gotten by prayer;
you are the steeple I mount for the chase,
the blue-ribbon prize at the fair.
So, empty your pail full of nettles and needs,
and don't let our cabin grow cold;
then strip your decrepit old coat of its beads
and hang it outside to be sold.
We’d had a yard full of yarrow,
a house full of hyssop,
and then we had them no more.
We’d lined boxes with comfrey,
dressed windows with woodruff—
but then, we redressed them for war.
Jasmine, we’d run to the rooftop,
while roses restrained us in jail.
Your eyes—I’d covered with petals.
You’d been sage and bay and catnip, too.
I, horehound, lovage, feverfew—
till winter subverted our vows.
Then snow had to fall;
and fall it did;
and break it did—
One loaf of fog I slip you:
loaf—rugged, grey, yet fair.
One bridled breath you brush right back—
tense future hint of lips and hair.
One diadem I drop-kick
to mollify your star-struck moon.
One teasing touch you trundle back
on tread-rite tires to stop my swoon.
One undertow I catch you in:
snarling tug on which you tumble.
One bracing word you bully back
to block my fall—yet have me fumble.
One sheet of rain I wrap you in:
sheet—warm and blue and spare.
One heavy sigh you sally back
in ad hoc contract of repair.
All our longings and belongings
know our crime of taunt and tackle,
look to cop a beggar’s plea,
or serve their term in slip-knot shackle.
Caveat Poeta: Lectores Mordent
Adults have little yen to read,
and even less to deconstruct,
so let your work find wings to speed
their water through its aqueduct.
Now, if your piece behooves a chew,
because odd parts feel clotted,
we’re apt to think your retinue
might opt for fuel less solid.
If fillips give an ill-placed slip
to bits still feeling fecal,
these may becloud your clever clip
with dense and senseless treacle.
And if your lines lisp Derrida
in stanzas too inflected,
our dodo crew, pace Dada,
may deem your verse affected.
So show some flair, Apollinaire,
lest word-stews turn out fetid.
And take, for fuck’s sake, proper care
with expletives deleted.
As Browning meant, but wouldn’t say
of a ranter’s anguished gasp:
your will to reach—feet stuck in clay—
may just exceed your grasp.
Stratifying the Stress
You rue the red in stop signs,
say it jolts your world view,
yet radiate when that same red
regales with white and blue.
You loathe when I go bingeing,
say my whisky’s not the best.
But damn it, what I’d give to see
your Ritalin take a rest.
You race your soccer star to games
in a galloping SUV,
then deign to give my son the reins
to wax it for a fee.
My daughter just turned hooker
while your darling’s on some quest.
If zip code’s proof of pedigree,
who needs a family crest?
My means are fast diminishing,
while yours now jog on through.
It’s clearly not just ‘shock and awe’
that now engage us two.
If May weren’t so smashing,
I think I’d be cashing
my shoes in for life at the Cape—
whose fêtes I’d go crashing
while probably bashing
my head in on fermented grape.
If May were less thrilling,
no doubt Jeffrey Skilling
would leave us all dumbly agape;
but Lay’s no less chilling
and is likely shilling
for guys who think love’s just like rape.
If May weren’t compelling,
I might think of selling
Lay’s version on videotape;
but nothing’s propelling
my urge to try telling
his sheep de Panurge to escape.
If May weren’t compounding,
their need to keep sounding
like dullards evading a scrape,
I might just try founding
a trust that seeks grounding
in other than ‘U. S. of Ape.’