The Mudlark Poems: An Eider of Dawn
(for my Russian Ancestors)

by Lynn Strongin

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)

    Mudlark i, Ghoul’s Night

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.

The reality?
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.

           Like me
      patient as a plant
      as a penitent.                 Penitentional,
      Dusk fills me to the brim
           & in.
           Another close brush with the end.
      Night lids town.
      The cars flow on
      slow as taffy freezing
      But with the last firecrack
      shines rain
      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.

    Sir Serene
    the Thames
    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
                   I hunker
                   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

my shell.
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.
Magyar eyes

I see dawn
thru green
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.
Cows’ breath
hangs like crystal wreathes in the night. Laughter thru tears, the Slavic genius.

Reading Pushkin
by candlelight
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.
they say
           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:

        after the brute fact
        the act
        slumped in my bloods as in shawls against the splintered side of this barn.