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Letter to an Archaeologist

Citizen, enemy, mama’s boy, sucker, utter garbage, panhandler, swine, refujew, verrucht; a scalp so often scalded with boiling water that the puny brain feels completely cooked. Yes, we have dwelt here: in this concrete, brick, wooden rubble which you now arrive to sift. All our wires were crossed, barbed, tangled, or interwoven. Also: we didn’t love our women, but they conceived. Sharp is the sound of the pickax that hurts dead iron; still, it’s gentler than what we’ve been told or have said ourselves. Stranger! move carefully through our carrion: what seems carrion to you is freedom to our cells. Leave our names alone. Don’t reconstruct those vowels, consonants, and so forth: they won’t resemble larks but a demented bloodhound whose maw devours its own traces, feces, and barks, and barks. (1983) From “Urania” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $14.95), the third collection of Joseph Brodsky’s poetry to be published in the United States. Born in the Soviet Union in 1940, Brodsky became an involuntary exile to the United States in 1972. In 1987, he won the Nobel Prize for literature. 1988, Joseph Brodsky. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.


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