Nina Kossman – See How They Watch You

P Nina Kossman LE P&W Vol 1 2019

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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

See How They Watch You

See how they watch you:
a neighbors’ dog
lying supine at your feet,
cats in every alley
with a hungry look,
a young woman on the ground,
with a baby in her arms,
they all watch you,
they all want something from you,
and you think you know very well what it is,
yet when you succumb,
because something in you doesn’t let you walk past them,
they ignore your giving hand,
as though to teach you a lesson:
We don’t need your paltry offerings, M’am,
because, you see, even beggars have their pride here:
this is the land of the truly free, Sister,
who value something other
than what you can give them.

Untitled 1

till I mold you from clay,
(not you, of course –
only your likeness)
and transplant your soul
into this clay face.
It was your soul
that made you what you were,
not your nose,
your chin,
your cheeks,
your forehead,
but I will mold them anyway,
so your soul feels more familiar
in this unfamiliar place,
since it needs to settle somewhere
after your passing,
and what better place for it
than this clay mold,
although nothing
nothing at all,
you know,
can be as perfect for it
as your own body,
but now that you are dead
and your body is ashes,
this mold is the only home
for your homeless soul.
You know this.

Untitled 2

You are a force
deep inside me
that doesn’t know my name.

(See me throw it into the fire.)

That, deaf to my entreaties,
wouldn’t rescue me
from a burning house.

(See me throw it into the sea.)

That wouldn’t save me
if I were drowning.
And if I drowned, it would drown too.

(See me throw it into a forest.)

That wouldn’t look for me
if I were lost in a forest.
(If I were lost, it would be lost with me.)

See me throw it back into me:

How you dissolve, how you melt away,
no longer a force,
just a dead man’s soul.

Untitled 3

You, who are lost,
who were you then,
when time stood still
like a hollow rock,
where can you find it,
in what far-flung night?
You said it was yours,
time was your god, you said,
or did you want to say
that you were its servant?
But now it abandoned you –
you are a withered king
on a solitary throne
“She is my love, my bride, my very own…”
Ah, but where is she now,
your queen, your soul?
In the ground she lies,
in a wooden coffin,
under a heavy stone.

Untitled 4

your thoughts flew like butterflies
over imagined gardens
your thoughts swayed like sunflowers
in rhythm with the wind

your thoughts shone eyes like suns
caught in unpolished copper
caught in the nets of the evening
open-mouthed like fish

your thoughts in their speechless balance
were neither life’s songs nor vowels
they burned their hieroglyphic ambers
as clear as unborn suns

Faux Translation From The Akkadian

White upon black,
black upon brown,
blood upon white,
blood upon black,
red upon brown,
red upon black.
All blood is red;
only red.

God’s color is unknown
when God is the unknown.

When gods become disposable,
their color becomes known.

When gods are irrelevant,
their skin color becomes relevant.

When white god is bleeding,
the color of his blood is red;
when brown god is bleeding,
the color of his blood is red.
Only a bleeding god knows
his worth in the minds of men.

Agamemnon’s Shadow Speaks

Too many thoughts
mind too small
crowded there

he said

Give me more brain
make me a genius
or else

I’ll steal your cow
I’ll make a war
I’ll kill your men
you kill mine

said Agamemnon
or one of the other pot-bellied kings

too many men
too little bread
what to do
let’s make war

said he of the big belly
and of the big mustache
chief of the walled city

maybe no worse than Troy

our women you know
they don’t run around
from city to city
like what’s her name
because of whom this war

they stay put
inside the walled city
they don’t betray you with a stranger
better with the next of kin

when they kill you
it’s straightforward
in a bathtub
with a fishnet
you come home from work–and bam!
no time to regret

no big war
no Troy
no army

it’s between you and your spouse
and maybe your concubine
why was she underfoot
she with her prophecies
so she goes too

not too much blood
very orderly

then your spouse rules
with her new spouse
my next of kin
we’re all blood relatives here

call my slaves
wash off my blood
until my bathtub is sparkling clean

I told this story too many times
feeling tired now

said Agamemnon’s shadow

© Nina Kossman

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