IN THE BATHHOUSE
And when at last I used to leave the house
after the lazy Sunday rest,
the sun was high. It saw a town in drowse;
a golden rush of leaves lay to the west.
All northern Russian towns are quite alike:
a river, a long street along the river,
a square with a statue of a leader
stretching his right arm forward like a guide.
The crowd headed where his finger pointed:
to a bathhouse on the river’s bank.
I walked along with the others, a poor student,
a ghost of those blind alleys, nil, a blank.
In the light and shade of my sixteenth October
I carried but a parcel in my hand.
The smell of soap, of public bathhouse timber
is what I call the smell of the motherland.
And I remember skinny women’s shoulders,
curved spines and—with a gasp of awe—
their loose and bulky bellies in the folds
of many motherhoods.
The old stone floor
was warm and smooth under their bare feet,
sunlight fell on it through the upper windows,
rays intermixed with steam and water lit
the hair of the bathing women.
Their faces up, eyes closed, they stood
under the showers, like in an ancient chapel,
and listened to the choirs of migrant birds.
With their necks craned and with their nipples
relaxed under the water, with their palms
caressing chests and falling to their hips,
with bluish veins crisscrossing their slim ankles,
they looked like water nymphs.
Time, hold them still, save them like flies in amber!
I look out of the window across the cobble-stone plaza.
I see the autumn river which like a saw
cuts through the log of the horizon.
The eye finds only what was there before:
the sky, the water, many rivers ago.