Translation p. 1

“The Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Jeanne of France” by Blaise Cendrars

Translated by Ron Padgett

From Blaise Cendrars: Complete Poems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992)

Dedicated to the musicians

Back then I was still young
I was barely sixteen but my childhood memories were gone
I was 48,000 miles away from where I was born
I was in Moscow, city of a thousand and three bell towers and seven
   train stations
And the thousand and three towers and seven stations weren’t enough
   for me
Because I was such a hot and crazy teenager
That my heart was burning like the Temple of Ephesus or like Red
   Square in Moscow
At sunset
And my eyes were shining down those old roads
And I was already such a bad poet
That I didn't know how to take it all the way.

The Kremlin was like an immense Tartar cake
Iced with gold
With big blanched-almond cathedrals
And the honey gold of the bells . . .
An old monk was reading me the legend of Novgorod
I was thirsty
And I was deciphering cuneiform characters
Then all at once the pigeons of the Holy Ghost flew up over the square
And my hands flew up too, sounding like an albatross taking off
And, well, that’s the last I remember of the last day
Of the very last trip
And of the sea.

Detail of Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961), La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France. Illustrations by Sonia Delaunay-Terk (Paris: Éditions des hommes nouveaux, 1913). Gift of Dr. Gail Levin, 2021; PML 198726 © Blaise Cendrars/Succession Cendrars. © Pracusa 20230412