Time’s rhythms never forsook me, but space, space
slashed and left me nameless in the gray valleys
of Bronx apartments. It is fall. The yellow and blood-red
leaves smudged, smeared, igniting my dark shoe,
clinging, like Russian birch autumns, like history, to the
undercurrent of me. And with the tug of wind, I am
in sixth grade, Wisconsin, listening to the rustle of fresh
pencils and counting the clock. Or walking from work, is it
the smell of burning leaves in Russia, the brown-tinged radiance
calling me home, where under kitchen light bulbs
my father ignites my first alcohol burner:
the flame blue, then yellow. No. It is the fall
my grandpa and first love passed in the
That is fall. Fall may mean
the gentle machinery of kompot, mixing spurts of
strawberry and apricot, always there and lifted
from the dust of a broken cellar—or the fire of chili,
cocoa and cider in fields sprawling from Wisconsin
to South Carolina. Fall carries itself in fragments, the smell
of smoke, the cold, the loss. It is never the same,
but something similar changing.
My friend in Ghana wrote about October
across seas. There, the seasons revolve,
not around cold temperature, but the rain season,
regenerating the plant life. And autumn is
not the deathly reds and yellows,
but green. Green.
I cross the green Farmacia in the Bronx.
This fall I am in New York. It is late October, 2017.
And after strange attacks of humidity, it is now
cool, growing cold and the leaves, the yellowing leaves,
when they do lean from the endless valleys
of gray cement – they are like an anointing with oil.
THORNS BECOMING LEAVES
I was chastened by the land—the spiny fists
of trees stretching through rock and hollows that
wound the shin. And I was returned with the gifts
of expansive skies—unruly tufts of green shrub
buzzing under dark clouds.
Adam walks a trimmed garden, affixing names
to the birds of the air, the names hanging
restlessly; he tweaks his painless world. Eve is
his companion, but she is looking away, staring at a rift
in the land. She tries to speak, but
finds no words for suffering.
I have left the lectures of the deserts and
the sweet rot of the gardens for the luminescence
of a subway car. And through beat-up glass, it is not
skies or oranges in bloom, but lips the precise violet
of dusk, a Spring dress trailing lilac through
windy blocks. “Doors closing.” And the rush-hour dash
for excellence feels like a clothes iron wrestling
the wrinkles of a stream.
And each day, I see the weight of guilt carried into
bars where candles and fresh flowers mask
the public housing, the jails of thorn. And each night,
entering the Bronx,I can’t forget the black body
cops brought to the ground. And though my skin is white
as colonizer and though you call me lover, to touch
the corners of your inherited pain, I only try
to listen. Too long, I stand clumsy and stuck.
One day, waiting for the train, I wondered, “Where can I
find her, the goddess of nettle, who dressed my wounds
with clay and kissed me into reality, crooned pain is
inseparable from getting better?” And the dust said: “She is in
the deserts, pushed far into sands dried of cacti, strategizing
with the wind.” Through halls of pain, she walks with her son
—too thorny, too forgotten to flower.
After late shifts, the many faces, strange and looking
away, sway like reeds in the moon-flooded pond
of a subway car—their eyelids, petals, unsticking
to the powdery green light. Tonight, I feel our thorns
slowly become leaves. Outside, under vast
blankets of clay, a goddess is shifting in her sleep.
—Owner of the Sun, Yoruba Religion
For Amiri Baraka
Purple night. Harlem/Columbia sounds of rat peeing in steel pipes.
Black music is Black power: sexual, liberated through lively breast notes—
something was just repressed: the embodied, intellectual fuck the Man
of pure being/singing. Still, mechanical Wall Street implodes into Olorun.
Konstantin Kulakov is an award-winning Russian-American poet born in Zaoksky, Soviet Russia in 1989. He is the recipient of the Greg Grummer Poetry Award, judged by Brian Teare. Kulakov's debut collection of poems, Excavating the Sky, was published by Dialogue Foundation Books December 4, 2015 and lauded by Kirkus, Cornel West, and David Rosenberg. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Phoebe, Tule Review, The Christian Century, Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy, Tidal Basin Review, and WildSpice. Select poems have been translated into Russian, including a forthcoming translation into German. He lives in New York.