Three poems by Nina Kossman – in Trafika Europe Corner II.8 by Andrew Singer

To accompany our issue Trafika Europe 13 – Russian Ballet, we’re pleased to present a series of Trafika Europe Corner columns featuring poetry from several Russians that didn’t make it into our journal.

Moscow-born Nina Kossman (in Russian Косман – Kosman), the featured artist in our Russian issue, is also a writer, poet, translator and playwright. Her books include a collection of stories about her Moscow childhood, Behind the Border (HarperCollins,1994); Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths (Oxford University Press, 2001); Pereboi, a collection of her Russian poems published in Moscow; a bilingual edition of her poems published in the US, and a novel. Her translations of Russian poetry have been anthologized in Twentieth Century Russian Poetry (Doubleday, 1993), The Gospels in Our Image (Harcourt Brace, 1995), The World Treasury of Poetry (Norton, 1998), Divine Inspiration (Oxford University Press, 1998), and elsewhere. Her translations of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poems have been collected in two volumes, In the Inmost Hour of the Soul and Poem of the End. Her Russian short stories and poems have been published widely, and two of her plays have been produced off-off Broadway. Her poems and stories have been published in many literary magazines, such as Tin House, The Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Columbia Journal, and Confrontation. She lives in New York City.


Here are three poems by Nina Kossman, translated by the poet.


A name shaped like a firebrand

a flower shaped like an eye

the childhood of my memory

in the absolutely closed sky


a word shaped like a mouth-lid

a thought twisted from light

ruses of final solitude

fading in the final white


a mouth shaped into music

Ave Maria, reply!

help us shape our ecstasy

as we shape your drawn-out sigh





In the language unconscious of games,

unconscious of being a language,

a thing apart from yourself,

a silence,

a sea light,

a desire for form,

you speak as the humming darkness,

the breeze,

the sounds of images

envelop your voice.


Let the memory go down

the un-danced road of no-words.

In mid-air, where your childhood home stands,

see the lawn filled with flowers:

the face of a plant or of your mother

no longer living,

yet, all the same, interrupting your life

with her phantom goodness

still visible in your imagination’s sleep.



the child of your own intelligence,

of the forms your intelligence takes in your words,

of the forms that grow golden in the sun

and are grey in moonlight,

of phrases that are spoken once

by shadowy, distant lips,

of meditation too hollow for sleep,

and sleep too light for perfection,


shape your own shadows

from these motionless deaths

in this landscape, motionless

but for the fecund shapes surrounding you,

making indifferent noises

in their unconscious way.


Scatter clusters of syllables,

an apprentice of intelligent void,

solid space acquiring language,

the words that become the void

or settle on your palm like pigeons

cooing their way through your sleep:

memory giving form to memory,

and mastery giving form to pain–

no longer a sound from a misty past,

but a full-blooded flood of sorrow.


Depth of feeling,

she said (stroking his recoiling cheek),


is not, nowadays,



by the spirits attendant

on casual liberty,


by the circumstance-without-exception,

by the uninhibited-past-the-bounds-of-habit,


by all that is well and alive

though lacking in absolutes,


lacking in sympathy to the flesh of chance,

and to that brilliant embarrassment,


the cause of our never-do-well —

paradoxes of a fruitful mind.


Depth of feeling,

she said (stroking the air


whence he had removed his cheek),

is an illusion fostered


by epochs rich in

libations, ceremonies,


prodigies maimed

in rituals to tame the innocence


of onlookers, guests of а dreamy king.

Change of scene


and of time

is a promise of newer patterns,


new unattainable joys,

other frights breeding


in other silences. But o for the irreplaceable

tales of the un-self-possessed!


she said

(her hand in the air).



Be sure also to check out Nina Kossman’s artwork in our Russian issue!

Enjoy Trafika Europe 13 – Russian Ballet free online


Trafika Europe – some of the best new literature from Europe (audio conversations w/ authors & more)
…and check out our animated literary videos! (link to our YouTube channel!)

Read ELNet’s Trafika Corner II.1, Trafika Corner II.2, Trafika Corner II.3, Trafika Corner II.4, Trafika Corner II.5Trafika Corner II.6 and Trafika Corner II.7.

Category: Trafika Europe Corner


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