Translated from the Georgian by Lyn Coffin and Nato Alhazishvili

    Monastery in the Hills
    (Monk's Song)

    Each morning I fetch water from a hidden spring
    and quietly watch the changing clouds.
    I do not know if I will see another winter
    but I am still happy, surrounded by mountains and green places
    where so many mortals—so many weak ones—live.
    I do not think about the pines because they're me.
    Each time they think of me,
    I stop wondering why the white walls of my retreat
    do not look like snow on the bamboo fence.
    The paths of fishermen and woodcutters intertwine
    and even after a hundred years I would not want to untangle them
    Nor am I tired by memories of a past I never had
    Nor do I believe my prayers are heard by
    a blue deer, kneeling, whose quiet breathing I can almost touch fully, with my body.
    I wonder where Sesson is now.
    These plum branches await only night and the moon
    to startle my long ago dreams
    and scatter them on these roofs and this place
    numerously inhabited by clouds and forests and squirrels
    and these wild geese
    and the spring hidden to everyone
    and that which wanders on mountain paths
    and cold cruel winds and dry brush
    gathered near the monastery
    on which to cook beans for forty years.
    Every twilight, cranes follow the wind toward my thoughts
    but they do not think of me at all;
    I cannot find the way home because
    I have never wished to find it.
    I lie on the ground like a branch
    My bones are as dry as brushwood.
    If they asked me, I could not tell them the name
    of the woman who was with me once,
    who was with me once and warmed my heart.
    The rain is sleeping.
    Every branch, every treetop, is a warm human soul and
    (now I realize) every breath of the wind
    every snow-covered leaf on the slope of a hill is like this.
    I fetch water from the hidden spring.

    Cranes in Flight

    Each of them: not in the sky or the mirror of an old lake,
    but in the field of nearly imperceptible resistance
    created by the wave of
    one wing to the left or one wing to the right—
    A wave of birds

    Each of them: not advancing with respect to another
    but—in an unending current
    towards fate,
    fate not reduced to
    any of the possible triangles or heavens
    neither to the sight-defying touch of the
    crossable or the transformed into sorrow

    Each of them
    exists, not in a separate being or in separate seconds,
    but in a moving mystery,
    the first touch being the sound
    Each of them: not against trees or Earth
    or memory
    but into the law unknown to them:
    marking line and curve

    in unending movement

    Every second in the fragile
    thick lake of the mirror

    Still Life with Snow
    (To Carmela Uranga)

    on airy balconies, heavy houses,
    speeding cars, all these snows—

    snow burying its head in someone's airy balcony
    or living on the roof of an instantaneous car

    or running stealthily after silly children—
    lost street by street, all these snows

    or at night in small parks of gathered friendships
    trampled by thousands of feet
    all these hearts of all these snows
    fall like silent touches

    unnoticed reprimands

    the whole life of half-melted snow
    sunrise to sunset,
    the whole half-melted life of snow

    an everyday this or that person
    wakes up to a this or that surprise
    that this snow is completely other

    and under the cover of some other unknown snow

    an everyday other unknown person
    sees another dream, and in the dream
    more than one other snow:

    in a corner of the house, unnoticed, it is bitterly burying its head
    or step by step ascending a mountain's far off slopes
    or paling after chasing silly children

    or, as it often happens,
    failing to fall.

    genius loci
    For Hans Magnus Enzensberger

    in a dreary café in Copenhagen, capital of Austria
    with a few not so bad views over river Seine
    I watch its interior full of tired and heat-worn people

    the waiter briskly brings my pizza
    and says with a stern smile:
    "please, enjoy
    it is almost like the ones mothers make
    in the towns of my native Italy:
    Vienna or Madrid or Bern"

    the pizza tastes good indeed I haven't eaten all day
    just some dried figs from a distant supermarket
    at the Saint Mark's Square

    an elderly man in a green top hat sits across from me
    and stares into the newspaper with indignation:
    "why did they disperse this demonstration in London
    they weren't asking for much just the ban on unsafe products
    such insolence is unheard of from Belgian police
    but no wonder the police always win"

    I nod in agreement

    and glance involuntarily
    at his shabby mouse-gray jacket

    "I bought this ten years ago in New Delhi, capital of Kazakhstan
    nothing else remains with me from there except sweet memories
    which this jacket always carries with me
    but here in Sierra Leone people are strange
    I wonder if every Hungarian is like this including you"
    "I am not from here
    I am a traveler from a hot land
    you may have heard of Georgia"
    "of course, of course
    once as a tourist I visited
    your beautiful capital Sofia
    I haven't been there in ages though
    it must have changed by now"
    "what can I say it looks like Beijing to a foreign eye"
    "you mean the capital of Sweden?"
    the man stands up sets the folded newspaper on the table like a heavy iron pot
    nods good-bye and leaves the café with a wobble

    I watch his stooped back
    and for a second feel how he smiles
    for I also think like him
    that I will never again see him in this city
    which is probably not as populous as
    for example Ankara, capital of Japan
    or Tartu, capital of Nigeria

    then I return to my pizza but keep wondering
    how much the marks of my memories will weigh in twenty years
    and will my jacket or a t-shirt or some person
    in some dreary café in some city share this mounting weight
    or will I be able to cut anything out of it
    such as every meal I've savored in Salzburg, Poland
    or the memory of Spanish wine from Tirana, capital of Bulgaria
    or aimless journeys in countryside haulage in
    Munich, the provincial town in Czech lands

    forget it—my thought tells me—this is all madness
    continue living the life which is as beautiful as
    for example the Moldova
    so fleetingly lapping
    in the eternal Portuguese town of Zurich
    like a spy tiptoeing
    towards the everyday nerves of its citizens
    or for example the Donau
    protecting like a wise serpent Stockholm, capital of Peru,
    where at the last century's end
    couples often walked the streets with songs like this
    "this river like so many others
    cannot often see the sun for the clouds
    but the clouds can never ever
    hide the sun from our eyes"

    continue with the life you don't know? To whom do I say
    do not give me so many memories hidden away in so many lives
    do not give me so many solitudes I can never return
    do not give me forgotten dervishes and forgotten madmen
    forgotten books forgotten love-stories
    do not give me these passages from reference-books and encyclopedias:
    "belongs to the ranks of forgotten authors"
    do not make me read what is not written by poets

    of course I know well that my guardian spirits
    join battles of life and death
    even here in the dreary café of Belgrade, capital of Finland,
    so as not to overcome each other, so my love will not burn out
    but still do not make me read what is not written by poets

    my Turkish pizza is almost finished
    but in my memory it is just as pure
    as when I first saw it
    when they brought its heart to me
    as a torch for all tomorrows

    Killer's Song

    I killed him.
    I killed him very well.
    I killed him very elegantly and precisely.

    I prepared for this minute for such a long time!
    All my life I prepared for this minute.
    My whole life prepared me for this minute.
    The whole universe prepared me for this minute.
    And it—the universe—knew that this would happen.
    And it—the universe—took my side as always
    And if I had not committed this act, there would be no second coming.
    And if it came, it would not matter.
    That's why I had to open the knife unerringly.
    My knife had to do the work and I had to become its servant.

    I had a knife in my chest pocket,
    A good knife.
    And I opened the knife as easily and quickly
    As if I were the knife itself.

    I was glad, I was very glad
    Happiness was also glad, glad like me.
    Oh, how glad it was! Oh, how it loved me!
    Oh, how sweetly it caressed me with words as true and unerring as a knife!

    The one I killed, he wasn't my target;
    The one I slashed, he wasn't my target;
    This minute was my target. This happy age was my target—
    The best time in the universe;
    This unexpected order, this unexpected sweltering;
    This, the feast—whose coming you can't force
    The feast—that always comes on its own!

    It would be desirable—to shove it into the heart
    To enter the heart directly!
    But the heart is teeny-tiny,
    And locked in its cage of bones,
    Peeping sadly and shivering out of the ribs.
    Obviously, a rib can get stubborn and deny admission!
    And, for a second, I considered the case:
    A rib might screech and take the thrust;
    Then blood would be spilled in vain.
    Would be spilled to disappoint my knife.
    Would be spilled in vain and spell failure for my knife.
    It seems it would be more reliable to enter the abdomen,—
    Somewhere near the navel: right or left, above or below.
    What enters will also turn or slide for a couple of seconds,
    Somewhere toward the liver or the navel—Mecca of the abdomen.
    But for a knife, clothing is what armor is for a sword;
    Especially if the abdomen is dense and hard.
    It would therefore be more reliable to split the neck,—
    Arteries would untie and I could see the gullet,
    Now already severed in two—frolicking on both banks
    Oh, how terribly I was afraid the devil wouldn't play his part!
    Oh, how terribly I was afraid I wouldn't kill him!
    Terrified of not killing!

    But I still settled on entering the heart and that's what I did.
    And the knife so quietly and so calmly found
    Both the heart and its cautious heartbeat that I instantly realized:
    They had known each other a long, long time,
    They had looked for each other for a long, long time,
    And when they saw each other, they were not confused,—
    They both together stretched their arms out to God,
    They both together pointed their fingers at God,
    And these two roads, these two directions
    Convened: they never went any farther.
    There, undoubtedly, God was standing and did not think
    About me, nor about the one I killed;
    Nor did he think of the knife, become long ago part of my hand.
    And I would be very happy to know
    that he thought:
    "It's good that there is death and someone
    Who can kill the ones deserving death".
    And these two roads appreciated and attained each other,
    And the knife and its humble servant were victorious.
    It entered where it should have entered without any doubt.
    And I observed how my knife killed the person,
    Who once insulted freedom, insulted another,
    Equally defenseless, equally miserable,
    Equally produced by our land and our air
    Soaked with the smell of so many tormentors' glances,
    Fetid with so many hidden glances,
    Produced by this land where so many resemble each other,
    But not my reliable knife,
    Which was as faithful to me as I was to memory.
    To memory which is the bridge, which is survival.

    I did not smell the smell of blood,
    Nor the smell of the person on his deathbed.
    I just shoved my knife in and was glad
    That I did it reliably- And I observed
    That the blood did not go anywhere,
    The blood lingered close to the body.

    I was glad and thought: if this knife were the only one
    That could protect human dignity
    That could protect its own dignity and memory—
    And protect the one who could not survive because
    Then the knife did not exist which could protect her,
    Nor the one who understands that now, this minute,
    She is protected with his own pain and memory—
    Then this knife is my God
    And I love this knife
    As I love my life standing by the head of the one I killed with the knife in my hand
    As I love it every time every place I hold this knife in my hand,
    As I love everything that isn't like anyone or anything else
    As I love this life that is very lonesome
    And is—simply—everything that happens on this terribly cruel earth.