Only the evening like honey comes

to stare into the cross-hatch of faces

etched in the grime, the blunderings

of animals caught in the grid.

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Viewed from the Neva the vaulted

pock-marked wall has a geometry

like a chessboard, while over all

hangs a giant, bitter sulkKresty 2

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like smoke that does not fade

with the backwash but rises

to blacken and haunt the river passengers

for years to come in dreams and spectacles of ruin.

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Now one can recall, too, with comprehension

the early morning figure passing along

the Fontanka canal and over the bridge,

alone, unobserved, but furtive.

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The tender heart is deceived into thinking

that this city’s scowl can be coaxed away

by a spot of sunshine, that it does not conceal

anything more than weakness and defeat.

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The truth is altogether harder: the waves

of famine, terror and death

have arrived in scars that ridge

every step to the cemetery.

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The queues are gone. The smell

remains but there is no smell.

In the cells on three-tier bunks

the teenage thieves fester

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with one tap for twenty-four inmates,

the hardest on top, like the guards.

Each crime is sweated out in the heat,

a rape, a stolen anorak.

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And so all the passing birds long

to fly in at the little crosses

bearing pebbles of light

like migrating souls.

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Everywhere time stops, history yields,

eternity hesitates, while nature

spreads out and endures.

Like honey the evening comes.