Nina Kossman – Lament For Odysseus

Profile Nina Kossman LE P&W Sept 2019

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Lament For Odysseus, poems by Nina Kossman

Moscow born, Nina Kossman is a painter, sculptor, bilingual writer, poet, translator of Russian poetry, and playwright.  She is the author of two books of poems in Russian and English as well as the translator of two volumes of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poems. Her other books include Behind the Border (a collection of stories about her Moscow childhood), Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths (Oxford University Press, 2001), and a novel.  She lives in New York. Her website is

Lament For Odysseus

Beauty that you take so lightly,
because it is not yours,
because it is foreign,
because it is not the beauty of Ithaca,
because it belongs to that other land,
the enemy,
the vanquished land,
whose soldiers it was your job to kill,
whose mothers lament in a different tongue
(although the tongue is the same,
yes, it is,
really, it’s the same tongue as yours!)
and although you so despise
that foreign beauty
– of the land
– of buildings
– of women,
it is still beauty, Odysseus,
and you know it
in the depths of your clever heart.

Memory is Silence

Awake in me, you sleep
the sleep of knowing –
memory is silence
hungry for music,
self is the world
hungry for a face,
seed is a stone
hungry for living,
and every paradox in the world
ends in death.

Awake in me, you know
the knowledge of sleep_-
words are a trap
set by the mouth,
body is memory
disfigured by light,

poems are bird language
– like every paradox in the world –
for silence.


Lines shouldering clipped words,
careful not to awake the sea
of pride in uniform sounds,
impatience brewing in them like wine
in tight-lidded kegs:
an army scattered in emptied ruins
beyond the sky’s drifting sight,
versed in swift rising –
now or never. So words defy truce:
carved shafts aiming upward
grammarians can’t grasp.

Untitled  I

The lesser magic,
the greater unknown,
a shadowy host,
the immortal dust,
what’s this life about
but letting go,
enough time for the mouth
to unlearn the word “mine”,
enough time for the bone
to grow old and weak,
enough time for the mind
to forget the names
of all who are gone;
what’s immortality,
but the lesser magic,
the greater unknown,
mold on the host,
dust on a gravestone.

Untitled II

light of my life,
exempt from thinking,
let me go out
neither with a bang nor a whimper,
but with a poem
whispering its way
from my heart to my lips,
and from my lips to a pencil,
and from the pencil – to paper,
and from paper – to the hearts of my friends!

Untitled III

What can death do to me
that it hasn’t done yet?
What can it take
that hasn’t been taken?
it can only lift
what hasn’t been lifted,
it can only unfold
what has been folded
by what calls itself life
yet is not alive;
it folded itself onto me,
until every breath became war.
I do not lie
when I say
there’s death
in every breath,
(and a common rhyme it is, too!).
Think “дух” and “дыхание”,
“anima” and “animal”,
then turn them upside down:
now you get it.
So hello there, silly old Mr. Death,
and how do you do?

© Nina Kossman