Fierce heat. The forests were afire. Time
Dragged on dully. At the neighbor’s dacha
A rooster crowed. I went out of the gate.
There, on a bench, leaning against the fence,
A Serb, a drifter, dozed, black and skinny.
A heavy silver cross hung
On his half-bare breast. Drops of sweat
Poured down it. Above him on the fence
A monkey, clad in a red skirt, sat
Chewing greedily on dusty leaves of lilac.
A leathern collar, pulled back by a heavy chain,
Choked her. The Serb, hearing me,
Came to, wiped off his sweat and asked me
For some water. But hardly tasting it —
Is it too cold — he put the saucer
On the bench, and instantly the monkey,
Dipping her fingers in the water, grabbed
The dish with both hands.
She drank, standing on all fours,
Elbows on the bench.
Her chin almost touched the boards,
Her back arched high above her
Balding pate. It must have been like this
That Darius crouched long ago, his lips to
A roadside puddle, on the day he fled
From Alexander’s inexorable phalange.
The water drunk, the monkey swept
The saucer off the bench, rose slightly
And — will I ever forget this moment? — reached
Out to me with her black, calloused hand,
Still cool with moisture…
I have pressed hands with beauties, poets,
Chiefs of people – not one hand
Presented such nobility of shape!
No hand touched mine in such fraternity!
God is my witness, no one looked
Into my eyes so deeply, with such wisdom,
In truth – to the bottom of my soul.
This impoverished beast brought back
To life within my heart the sweetest tales
Of deeply ancient eras,
And in that moment life in full revealed
Itself to me, and it seemed – a choir of lights
And ocean waves, winds and spheres burst
Upon my ears, thundered, like so long
Ago, in other, immemorial days.
And the Serb left, tapping his tambourine.
Perched on his left shoulder,
The monkey swayed in step,
An Indian maharaja on his elephant.
The huge magenta sun,
Deprived of rays,
Hung in the hazy smoke. Unrelenting
Heat poured over the scrawny wheat.
That very day war was declared.