Letter to an Archaeologist
Citizen, enemy, mama’s boy, sucker, utter
garbage, panhandler, swine, refujew, verrucht;
a scalp so often scalded with boiling water
that the puny brain feels completely cooked.
Yes, we have dwelt here: in this concrete, brick, wooden
rubble which you now arrive to sift.
All our wires were crossed, barbed, tangled, or interwoven.
Also: we didn’t love our women, but they conceived.
Sharp is the sound of pickax that hurts dead iron;
still, it’s gentler than what we’ve been told or have said ourselves.
Stranger! move carefully through our carrion:
what seems carrion to you is freedom to our cells.
Leave our names alone. Don’t reconstruct those vowels,
consonants, and so forth: they won’t resemble larks
but a demented bloodhound whose maw devours
its own traces, feces, and barks, and barks.
(I’ve corrected the online version from my copy of To Urania, adding italics and changing an errant “that” to “than”; also, I’m pretty sure this is a poem Brodsky wrote in English and thus was not “translated by the author.” Incidentally, according to Google, “refujew” occurs only in this poem, so it’s presumably Brodsky’s portmanteau invention. Verrucht is a German word meaning ‘despicable, loathsome.’)