First to go, the right lung;
Then, at intervals, unanticipated
Spates of spitting blood.
Devotedly at work, the iridescent
“Doctoring in my spare time”;
Focus on fact, on detail, all those letters.
1890: by boat the long haul to Sakhalin,
The prison swamps, and duly eye-opening
His report. Somewhere else
He builds a school, takes charge
Of a cholera outbreak. Kropotkin
Quotes his dictum with approval:
We need desire most, force of character
To banish “whining shapelessness.”
Nightingales had nested in the open window
At Sumy, summer 1888. While he slept,
One lung, or both, might have whistled
So entertainingly, the light-winged
Dryad of the woods joined in.
Not a remnant, left to erode
In acidic debate,
He purposed and accomplished
The utmost he had known—
Sixteen more years above the dust.
In two, from Ukleyevo, Lipa, Lipa,
Her baby scalded, and her scream
Complete as now his pleasure is
To see “slip from their shells
The children of the nightingale.”
Ukleyevo is the village of Chekhov’s “In the Ravine,” in which Lipa’s infant son is scalded to death by Aksinya.
Christopher Middleton’s most recent poetry collections are Just Look at the Dancers (2012) and A Company of Ghosts (2011), both from Sheep Meadow Press. He has published many translations, including the new Robert Walser collection Thirty Poems (New Directions). (updated 10/2012)