the river Volga

the river Volga

 The river Volga flows through my mind,
 following the curve of my childhood
    to a happiness long forgotten.
The birch and linden along its bank
   turn the water a slow deep green.
Church domes gleaming in the sun
float above the forest like giant water lilies.
The gray wood houses
with the stillness of another time
   stand mutely by the shore,
while in the distance, ringing with promise,
 the city Yaroslavl and more.

At this curve of the river my mind remains fixed:
the Volga in early summer
when day lasts nearly forever and tomorrow is like today,
where time like the Volga does not move
but only widens to a distant bank,
   deepens to a different shore,
where the air vibrates with soft golden light
and the sky sings like a bird in flight,
when all that exists is the river of childhood
   flowing without end,
and the city Yaroslavl, beating like my heart,
always around the bend.

How in this timeless world where nothing changes,
how in this sunlit world so perfect and clear,
did age, like a slow-circling hawk,
a mere speck in the sky,
   so sudden appear?
Hope blooms green as the linden,
but youth alone looks out on endless time,
like the great forests stretching across Russia,
like the warm, bright stillness of a northern evening
   with the whole summer yet before me,
like the Volga that never moves
but only widens through our tears,
   going on without an end,
while its currents carry us secretly down the years
to the city Yaroslavl waiting around the bend.

With such slow familiarity
the river Volga winds through my thoughts,
bringing back a happiness long forgotten.
I could lose myself here – return to the beginning,
to the Russia I’ll always love,
to that quiet river flowing towards the sun,
   the calm stillness along its banks,
the golden sunlight lingering on its shore,
   that state of  brightness
where time seems to stop and day has no end,
to the childhood that stretches forever
   and will never return,
to the city Yaroslavl, behind me now,
which I shall never see again.

originally published in Panorama in 2004, slightly revised 2005