In London where I've lived and worked, the real mudlark, the historical one, was a child who lived in the gutter, as it were, and kept himself alive by working the mud-banks of Thames River, "Down Greenwich reach / Past the Isle of Dogs" ("The Waste Land") where England's own and the world's ships plied their trade. The mudlark's job description, if he had one, would likely read: scavenger. His survival, outside the political and economic systems that governed the official life of his time, depended on whatever he could find—"empty bottles, sandwich papers, / silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends"—that the river had left behind. Anything on which he could put a price, anything that had value on the street. (Wm Slaughter, editor)
A thin shell of iron between earth & heaven. Heaven? Untranslatable, state of ethereal being
where you are a silk-weaver & mill silk clothing in the next room.
Clothes are a translation into fairytale being.
It was like transposing a musical comspoition from one key to another one:
A + to A- major to minor
shifting energy & emotion like an Asian language into a Slavic one not only images but a mood conversion.
Outworks. The mudlark was a scavenger, street ruffian, hooligan. Outline of town:
Rimmed with red smokestacks.
Give me no pencil drawings.
I want love with its skin back on.
The blue printing press is standing in a pool of moonlight
with lead trays ready to do their printing. Alphabet angel.
Trees with end-of-the world lighting.
I hear weeping between floors.
Always. Leftover from childhood?
The walking wounded. Children we could not walk.
Charon rows his boat in over waves of red iron.
Cold Night in Nebraksa—as in Siberia, the steppes:
Could the plains be more stone-frozen?
I wanted to be the bell in your cap
the lightning in your jar, running up & down your limbs
All the carbon rings are consumed.
Obliquely I might be translated into Russian.
patient as a plant
as a penitent. Penitentional,
Dusk fills me to the brim
Another close brush with the end.
Night lids town.
The cars flow on
slow as taffy freezing
But with the last firecrack
Too bright a light augurs doom: no nouns or verbs can transliterate this state into another condition:
this is an altered state of being
like translation in to an extinct tongue
I go to sleep under an eider of dawn.
Mudlark ii, Brilliance bodes doom
sinks into cracked gray light
Waterford sunburst crystal clock mother gave me for my half century, tick-tocking child-thing:
our scarlet dawn stencilling jet trees on red construction cranes, oil barrels burning behind them.
The Russian steppes
the rainbarrel with metal
which tastes of blood holding its wood in iron bands.
The storyteller in me creates molten shapes, language conversions, caressing Slavic vowel sounds
then reeling with all this conversion, transfer, back to root zero: pre-verbal child.
winds on under bridges snaking elbow bends.
Mudlark, I am
hopping first on one foot, then the other
blowing on tattered knuckles, 9 years of age
as in Medieval times. Every day my love withdraws from me like sun from land.
I bite my brightness back like thread tone kilowatts, candlepower down:
Sir Serene city’s a glazed fruit cake, boiled icing, nuggets of orange & green.
Dark as the dung-house
licking fingers feral, ferrous:
take heart blood radiance is rough enough, a diamond dimming: Mudlark goes
in the darkness, hopping to get blood flowing, folding, a brown ring, drab thing, his scruff-nest, a hoop around him.
Mudlark iii, Dark as an outhouse
Dark as an outhouse, shistkebind
though I have no German bone in me
my sleeping hut
Pinpricks of light from it I see
barge boats on the Thames.
To be a lighterboy transferring language from the streets to the rivers a water-translation:
rather than mudlark.
I have caked blood which smells like old metal
in my wings which colors my Magyar dreams.
Old Babi Yar my garndmother
bird-hut on stilts walking, stalking.
Mudlark iv, Frozen at Romanticism
Am I, like Russian poets, frozen at romanticism?
Skating on it in the little Ice Age returned. No! Realism.
I see dawn
the Germans have trashed the Jewish cemetery at Minsk
have trashed everything.
Heaps glitter scarred old tin: I write love songs
ash heaps warm
I harbor under one frozen wing, Zhivago coat, romance for a moment thawing blood & sternum: fleeing with poems in a frypan.
Mudlark v, Hope Against Hope (the girl speaks, Lynushka)
me slumped against barn wall
after being taken by the soldier
a random act red as wild rose in summer
a moment’s warmth, sparks flying like from a horse’s hooves.
hangs like crystal wreathes in the night. Laughter thru tears, the Slavic genius.
in the hay could have set me on fire but not kept me at a steady warmth
like the light
under the chicks
Mother Russia, these scratchy ash grey wool stockings. Mother Russia
her Byzantine onion domes,
her onions in a pan turn to translucent skins warming.
a person is like an onion:
peel them of the many layers to get to core.
I can see a clear path (on a roll, sweet rolls stuffed in my pocket)
every now and then as I squint eyes. There is no translation. Once gay, now gray:
Lighterboy mudlark transferring coin from one pocket to the other
exchanging language from head to heart: