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from the June 2006 issue

To Marina Tsvetaeva

Many a one has sunk in the abyss of horrid silence, and you among them, slender ghost whom I evoked with tools that are improbable, a little pile of grammars and of dictionaries, or now, with more urgency and authority, in humble, regular, harmonious verse.

You appeared to me beyond the page, out for a walk beneath the fortress walls, with every shadow lengthening in the dusk, receiving kisses from the breeze, which set your silk skirt trembling, a little bunch of violets in your hand, and in your eyes a desperation you had no words for.

Your life was only just beginning. You could not look forward to its ending, when you asked if you could work as a dishwasher in the Writers' House, whose inmates had fled from slaughter and foreign invasion, just like you, and yet your application was unsuccessful. You were turned away.

Who remembers their names now, the men and women gathering each evening to eat their food from plates you could not get permission to wash? Somebody much closer to you wounded you also, when he set a table for six guests, and failed

to invite you. You thought, if you could have been there with them, you would take your place like a scarecrow, or even like a fearful ghost, raising your crystal glass with care. But it would fall, and the red wine would spread over the table, along with everything

that was being checked and wanted to spread, salt from each eye, blood from each wound. As if death had arrived at the wedding, you had come to dinner, but alive. You are so alive to me right now it almost scares me, when I think how long you have accompanied me, since

the day when, in a bookshop in Glasgow, I took your poems down, and found you there. I will not struggle to establish any link between that beginning and the death you had (you wrote) been trying on, as if it were a dress, the one in which you chose to appear before us all in that ill hour.

It would be wrong to let that image cast its shadow back on everything you did: the plague year, in the starving capital, the attic where you lived with your two daughters, only one of whom had enough luck to stay alive; the years of your exile in Germany and France, and between these,

a sordid village at the capital's edge, in a small but generous country, which for several years supplied you with a grant, asking nothing in return; the day you were interrogated by the French police, because your husband's treachery had come to light, and in response quoted Racine.

For the Scots original, please click here.

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