Songs for an Opera

Craig Raine

The moon was open-mouthed with fear,
on the night the Novik went down.
The guns were greased, the decks were clear,
the sea a steady frown.

We knelt there ready for action,
sweating in spite of the cold.
Her plates were shifting a fraction
as the engines throbbed in the hold.

We could see a ship on the skyline
like the beam in a Pharisee’s eye.
We could hear the fluttering ensign
like panic in the sky.

The silent salvo of their rounds
died like a line of sparks,
and seconds passed before the sounds
had reached us in the dark.

Their shells had hardly exploded,
five hundred yards off spec,
before our gunners had loaded
and the cases bounced on deck.

Have you seen the Northern Lights
a battle can produce?
Have you heard the fizz of cordite
when it eats along a fuse?

Have you felt the spasm of guns?
Or the burn of an empty shell?
Did you know that eight hundred tons
could pulse like a synagogue bell?

Anna’s Song

I died the day my husband died.
There’s nothing you can do.
I cried the way my husband cried,
the way the dying do.

He turned his head and vomited.
I wiped away the spew.
And when, instead, he soiled the bed,
I cleaned away that too.

His chest was bare. I knew the hair,
I knew the way it grew.
I knew his lips, his fingertips,
but now his lips were blue.

I washed his sheets and walked the streets,
the way the living do.
I hung them out, then walked about,
but I was lifeless too.

I sat there and forgot to blink,
the way that dead eyes do.
I poured his medicines down the sink,
till I was empty too.

And I was brave beside a grave
dug slightly out of true.
The coffin bands slid through those hands
and I was buried too.

I died the day my husband died.
There’s nothing left for you.
I played like sunlight on the spade,
and then I faded too.

Sashka’s Song

I was wearing a blue woollen dress
and the boy was a boy like you,
so I gave him my name and address
and I let him feel me, too.

He was young and dying to know
what a girl was like in the flesh,
and I hadn’t the heart to say no
when he lifted up my dress.

I remember his careful hands
and the way that my legs were wide,
how I throbbed like a swollen gland
when I felt him feel inside.

I can see the scar on his cheek
and the look that meant he was shy,
or the nose like a kestrel’s beak
and his navel’s Tartar eye.

But you never forget the first
though you travel to distant parts.
From Odessa to Novosibirsk,
he’s the house you know by heart:

you remember with total recall
every hair that was trapped in the paint,
and that tap on the outside wall
or a hinge’s one complaint.

But a boy and a blue woollen dress
are enough for a girl to conceive.
When he threw away my address,
home was a place to leave.

So I live in the suburbs now,
where clients can visit my place
and grunt like a boar on a sow
or come all over my face.