On The Steamer

The stir of leaves, the chilly morning air
Were like delirium; half awake
Jaws clamped; the dawn beyond the Kama glared
Blue, as the plumage of a drake.

There was a clattering of crockery,
A yawning steward taking stock,
And in the depth, as high as candlesticks,
Within the river, glow-worms flocked.

They hung from streets along the waterfront,
A scintillating string; it chimed
Three times; the steward with a napkin tried
To scratch away some candle grime.

Like a grey rumour, crawling from the past,
A mighty epic of the reeds,
With ripples in the beads of street lamps, fast
Towards Perm the Kama ran upon a breeze.

Choking on waves, and almost drowning, but
Still swimming on beyond the boat
A star kept diving and resurfacing
An icon's shining light afloat.

A smell of paint mixed with the galley smells,
And on the Kama all along,
The twilight drifted, secrets gathering,
With not a splash it drifted on…

A glass in hand, your pupils narrowing
You watched the slips of tongue perform
A whirling play on words, at suppertime,
But were not drawn into their swarm.

You called your partner to old happenings,
To waves of days before your day,
To plunge in them, a final residue
Of the last drop, and fade away.

The stir of leaves in chilly morning air
Was like delirium; half awake
One yawned; the east beyond the Kama glared
Blue, as the plumage of a drake.

And, like a bloodbath now the morning came,
A flaming flood of oil - to drown
The steamer's gaslights in the stateroom and
The waning street lamps of the town.

by Boris Pasternak

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