Asia is not in the least
as you'd imagined, but what
it imagines you to be.
Asia is your disinclination
to return to Europe.
On the backs of Koi carp
swimming in the artificial
waters of the Grand Plaza Park Hotel
are distinct hieroglyphs.
The one who manages to decipher them
discovers the following:
"Man ages until
he turns into a fish."
"The island belongs to the ocean,
the fish-man just to himself."
"We are silent not because
we are unable to speak,
or have nothing to say, but because
those around us are attentive
only to themselves."
Sir Stamford Raffles
didn't even dream of the gigantic
sea-eagle which overshadowed
this latest piece of equipment
of Singapore Airlines.
He supplanted everything
in his parcel of sky, even a menacing
cloud, and the Chinese mamma
proudly showing off her first-born.
The eagle became a rare sight,
and the airplane stopped being one,
although a moment ago
it seemed otherwise.
The sea waves opened up
a lined notebook,
offering its pages
to the wind's hieroglyphs.
A quartet of lurid parrots
sat on the turnstile of
the Singaporean resort hotel
and spoke, each to itself;
the green one - of the ocean's avarice,
gulping down time; the red one,
of the obligation to chose a route;
the yellow one of the immutability of fate,
and the white one of the interminable life
of anyone who does not forget the island.
There's so much traditional food,
that you can't sample it all,
to decide which you prefer
in this museum of tastes and smells.
I shall hide my fork in my pocket
grab the chopsticks and rise to my feet.
Ignoring good manners,
I'll drum on the table,
while other dig into their Peking Duck,
baked crab and shrimp eggs,
grilled octopus, rice, various soups.
And desert still to come! And sauces,
I forgot them! And the hitherto unknown
plant that will rejuvenate you!
But what the use of youth,
a wild cat with eyes ancient
as the culinary arts of China.
like a lens,
a magnifying glass,
you may examine yourself,
like a grain of sand.
Yesterday, the ocean spat out
so many large and small fish
that Li Yan or Yan Li with her
sons hurriedly made off.
The Indian ocean, asthmatic
having expectorated its fish
simmered down, but today
has taken them back, moribund
and good for nothing,
managing to scrawl on the sand
with their fins just one word:
to dream of
that singular fish
that one day will be in their
hands, to fulfil wishes.
In the rainiest day,
on the last poem's seashore,
something prophetic remains,
a palm branch, bird feather, small shells.
Not much as far as life is concerned
Or joy, for that matter.
In Singapore, you'll find silk
better than you've ever seen
even in the Time of the Three Kingdoms.
In Singapore you'll find food
better than you've ever had
under either first or last emperor.
In Singapore you'll find beauties
make even an orchid hang its head.
In Singapore you'll find dreams
such that if you find yourself in one,
you'll exit in twenty
or two hundred years from a totally different one,
not knowing for sure which is a mariner
of the East India Company
supplying porcelain from Singapore to Sweden,
you or it.
He who is within
Is simultaneously without
And he who is without,
simply has to knock the door to be let in.
Better to be outside oneself
if one wants to be let in,
gazing into a friend's
We departed from the ocean
but it caught up with us through rain.
over all Singapore,
especially the Chinese quarter.
The whole ocean, it seems,
has risen into the sky, so as to
empty itself onto the Hindu
temple of a rain-goddess from an Arabian
street. The rain is sheer
melancholy, which ought to be
waited out under the awning
of a magician's stall, where cut price
crystal bowls are sold,
Lazurite beads and a black
with a couplet by Li Bai.
At its doors, Madame Esther Tan
twitters like a bird in spring,
during the winter offering
of her eternal goods; it is still raining.
It rains and rains,
like nephrite thoughts of departure.
The Buddhist's soul responds to
broken glass, little bronze
bells and my cross with it diminutive images.
In the lotus position; eye pupils
check out the world and seize on it
till they congeal like hermit crab shells.
Nobody and nothing yet
gets in the way of meditation, apart from me,
inopportunely smoking on the edge of his consciousness.
The resident of his shell menacingly
extracts the claw of a glance.
But even my eyesight, surfing through
many wars, nor given to surrender
yet backing off, so as
not to interfere with his living his life
properly. In addition, he thinks
he has by force of gazing banished me from his world,
but I remain convinced that even returning
to that point, I shall stand on the frontier
even if only as an ellipsis.
Here time stood at attention
before His Brittanic Majesty,
and now it flies, heedlessly,
so as to outdistance everyone,
our one-handed Bengali taxi-
driver, conveying us to the airport.
A sapphire greedily blazing,
as in the other the emerald eye
of the last magic tiger,
slaughtered in the billiard room, fades not.
The diamond of the sun itself continues
to burn even under the jade-bearing
jets of rains.
Translated from the Russian by Daniel Weissbort.