Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002423, Mon, 6 Oct 1997 10:31:20 -0700

*Dark Ice* VII (fwd)
A word-wild wood striped with strange shade
My desk and chair, deep in a Russian glade
270 A later afternoon. Another thaw
Unraveled lustrous cruxes; ice held fast
But loosened. Something cracked. As I stared
Downhill, through firs, a rotting stump (with ears)
Stood up and lumbered off (delicate steps)
To forage, pushing deeper into damp
Entanglements (if she's awakening,
Winter won't linger long, despite the cold
Leftovers of old weather scattered here).
I pocketed a pinecone made of bronze.
280 The iron-plated lake had partly thawed
But frozen fast, unfolding newspapers
In brittle Braille, torturing smooth plates
To maps of fracture, craquelure anglaise.
Sun focused; I stood sweating in the cold.
Sole on ice, I wavered-;--dared my weight;
And strode across the thaw's cartography.
Mooncolored patches (peril; fear) relieved
A partial mirror, temporarily
Substantial. Wet, white, walk. No vision spread
290 As I approached a tangled country tensed
Between seasons. Untrustworthy floor.
Fresh figure-eights of thorn unlooped from bright
Facing with darker roughness underneath
And dismal currents struggling toward the--top--!
Loud crack;----I made it. (Leaper, if
You walk on solid floorboards, praise the day
The liquid sun will sink this sheet away
In flagrant noons!) *Deep breath.* A crystallist,
Taking up a dry and sturdy stick,
300 I stooped; examined blue lines; read cold proof,
Made markings on the margin of the lake,
But slipped and stepped: the murky verso cracked.
(Dark darting bubbles; lightning's negative.)
Dark!--crackling from an ancient portrait (bled
From old enamels on a museum sled
That must have slipped and shaken over snows
Our clouds long since embraced)--shifted and shot
As puddles snapped. No runners passed these thorns;
But fragrant archivolts of evergreen
310 Led to an opening I hadn't seen:
Long avenue of acorns (infant park)
Near which a rude pavilion leaned, its shade
Amplified along the glassy path
From roadside cottage to lakeside hotel.
Something about the way reflections flowed
Into that glassy fragment of a road
Mirrored a dream I'd had of *going fast*
*On packed snow-forest flying past,*
*Stars overhead, my sleigh piled high with furs*
320 *But cold, so cold, disconsolate-dark blurs*
*Of empty landscape-bleak ice, firtrees felled*
*And stacked for transport-inky snowdrifts, weeds-*
*All these rushed past; steel runners kissed the ice;*
*Each creak of framework, hoof-clap, skittering slice,*
*Invariable rhyme--my every breath*
*Said I was racing,all alone, toward _____.*
(I plunge through freezing mirror and awake
Alive but undeniably alone.)
Bright day glared up. A squirrel sat and shelled;
330 The track curved back toward water but withheld
Its melt; thinned, crunched through frozen reeds,
Quartz flowers of old fallen ice,
Thin puddleglass, crystal characters--
Names written on a pane with diamond--
To hardscrabble scatters and the lake's blank tile.
I came upon my lucid antonym.
A plain reflection: no scarlet scarf,
No dandy's waistcoat-just a corduroy
Dufflecoat, warm boots, a pair of pants.
340 Briary clauses clung to leg and sleeve
And natural words bristled from every limb;
Arabic tangles skirting frozen melt
Bore Hebrew thorns; Chinese crystals hid
A bright diagonal. Just up the bank
I had to stop a moment by a tree--
--Human transaction. In my frail pee
A brilliant wind played with a frisk of sun;
There, as I emptied, air and I were one.
So far away from my returning dream,
350 It seemed like something from a foreign tale:
No runners creased this frost; this ice was bright;
That nightmare melodrama, merely trite.
I thought of where I'd read those (studying
My contribution to a leafy map)
Glass-dazzled paragraphs that loomed and burst
Green, with supple switches, liquid shades
Variegated like Antarctic streams--
--And finished; buttoned up: the ice was wet
Filed pearl, brilliant patchily.
360 I walked along the lake. An old path
Led through burnt fir-stumps to a road, and stopped.
I recognized a place I'd never been
And never seen before (that book again):
No horses clopped past quickly, flinging snow,
No sleigh; but something else. A cold flow
Moved almost underfoot; beyond, bright black,
A mirror's hole: no footprints leading back.
This was the same swamped ice, the same wet air,
The same faint path, the same blank danger--there,
370 From just that spot, a girl I read about
Walked down through reeds and chilly mist: stepped out.
(Some *thing* was overtaking me. That blur
Of old story felt familiar.)
The night she drowned (no "tragic accident")
She--clumsy, unpopular, intelligent--
Stopped here alone: the dark ice stretched out;
Wasted desire, thwarted heat, rote pain
Cracked with a shudder on my windowpane.
*(But that was fiction! this plate floats on real*
380 *Reflective glamour, shifting to reveal*
*A bright black flow, a lacquer crackling*
*And giving way--)* Time glimmered, ink and ice.
I left that dislocation in the glass;
Down garbled paths, chased the ragged right
Margin of Platen Lake through leaded marsh
Foreclosed on in the stopped economy
Of winter: startled bubbles zeroed up,
An abacus of berries clicked; the wind
Stirred tattered, dogeared leaves. The bottom land
390 Held undecided puddles, icelogged sticks,
Weedy statistics, blighted, written-off;
Old logs with brief, blurred entries: *Lazy-fear.*
*Stagnation. Downturns. Muddy forecasts.* Bright
Champagne is poured across the ice: the sun
Prepares a frothing celebration. Dark:
Grimmer wood. (These pearly softenings
Become our blackest midnight monolith
In Arctic relapse: carbon diamond,
Its single block a vast new-blackboard blank
400 That glitters up like coal ore.) Only dark
Trickles down; old murk. I plodded on
Along a grimpen slop of putative
Path through muck and ice disgorging thawed
Garbage; more pages from a newspaper;
A trampled banner  (ALL POWER TO...)
I wanted anything to point my way--
Not sodden documents remirroring
The arts of politicians (rotting maps,
Each insect-eaten leaf-state stuck to earth)--
410 I stopped to look for some way up the bank.
Easy to slip. Then that relaxing mire
Gave up, in scraps, the outline of a film:
*You'll meet Onegin, intellectual*
*But cynical, a Black-Marketeer*
*Who trifles with a sister Worker's heart;*
*Comrade V. I. Lenski, earnest, brave*
*Young Socialist Worker, who will try his best*
*To set corrupt Onegin on the path*
*Of the Task of the New Human; Tanya,*
420 *At the factory, pressing back a wisp of hair*
*From her damp forehead, gazing up*
*Into Our Leader's portrait--his sad eyes*
*Are more than a foot tall; and a host*
*Of basic types: Old Bourgeoisie*
*(A padded figure with a pocket watch*
*He keeps removing petulantly); Time*
*(Babushka with a youngster on her knee--*
*A girl, Historical Necessity,*
*Who lectures her upon the People's Will);*
430 *And, most important, represented by*
*A handsome liaison in a uniform,*
*The Party. He speaks the eulogy*
*When Lenski kills Onegin with a wrench.*
*The Hollywood version (1939)*
*Has Lenski as a cub reporter; Gene,*
*A hard-boiled gossip columnist (whose dad*
*Owns the newspaper); pure-hearted Ann*
*Is his girl Friday. Lenski has it out*
*With drunk Gene on Onegin Senior's yacht;*
440 *Then loses job, wins girl, but at ballgame*
*(After big scoop makes competition snarl)*
*Makes up with Boss and Gene, who agrees*
*To be best man at happy wedding. End.*
Twice punctured ice; damn. Almost slipped in.
My black sled flies on; its runners ring
On shadowed ice sedately mirroring
Gray dripping limbs. No choice, no change; all cold
Dismal waste. Then--dim, faltering-gold
Flickers far away, across the lake;
450 Through stinging flecks I sail to overtake
That transitive kindness-bonfire on snow
To warm the frost-haired traveler. Your glow
Enlarged and lit the clearing where my sled
Slipped to a silent stop. Reflection spread
A banquet of warm bread and English tea
As winter reversed itself, and suddenly
An open waste became halfsilvered sky,
Wet pavements, May, an unforeseen retry,
Bright spring: and that poor girl who took her life
460 Stepped through the mirror and became my wife.