My Handwriting

My handwriting is not calligraphic.
Not following the rules of beauty,
words stagger about,
reeling,
as if clobbered on the jaw.

But you, the descendant, my textual critic,
following on the heels of the past,
take stock of those gales
your ancestor got caught in.

He walked on a pugnacious coastal freighter,
a bit arrogant,
but you
should see beyond the pitched handwriting
not only the author’s traits.

Your ancestor wrote while tossed about,
not kept too warm by squalls,
habitually,
like having a pack
of his usual cigarettes.

Of course, far off we made our way courageously,
but it’s hard to write a line,
when your head is smashed with relish
against the bulkhead.

Risking skin and bones,
it’s tough to sing acclaim,
when what you see compels you
not to praise, but only to throw up.

When churning water strangles motors
and a wave’s curl is aimed at your forehead,
then smudges are better than flourishes.
They’re black-but true.

Here- fingers simply grew numb.
Here- the swell slyly tormented.
Here- the pen jerked with uncertainty
away from some mean shoal.

But if through all the clumsiness,
through the clutches of awkwardness,
an idea breaks through the way a freighter on
the Lena breaks through to the arctic shore-

then, descendant, be slow to curse the style,
don’t judge an ancestor severely,
and even in the handwriting of the poet
find a solution to the enigma of time.


1967
Translated by Albert C. Todd

by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

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