Psyche-Life: Two poems by Carol Rumens

‘When Psyche-life follows Persephone…’


When, through translucent forest, Psyche-life

follows Persephone down into the dark,

a sightless swallow flings itself in her path

with angry tenderness, and a twig in leaf.


The shades rush round to greet the visitor.

They cry their miseries to a new-found friend

and wring their feeble hands in bewilderment

and timid longing, stretching out to her.


One offers her a mirror, one, a phial of scent.

The soul’s a woman, you know, the small things matter.

Over the sterile woods, their voices patter

like dry rain-drops, equally transparent.


The soul’s confused by all this tender fussing.

The glassy oaks, she thinks, must be a dream;

she breathes onto the mirror, takes her time

fumbling out her coin for the misty crossing.


Bezdelki, with Morphine


I don’t know what you dreamt of – your first fuck

or the last teaspoon-sip of strawberry yoghurt?

Perhaps you waved your grey and faithful stick

or some enchanting “find”, some tiny engine-part.


Your breath came fast and steadily; when less

than audible, I thought it only sleep’s

new, uneventful phase. Later, I fetched the glass

and held it to your mouth. I kissed your lips


and felt, this time, no little answering pull,

the reflex of reflection, two-as-one.

(Don’t worry: shades, you know, are kissable.)

I woke my phone. The compact’s swing-glass shone.


I don’t know in what currency you paid,

or if you saw the leafless crystal oaks,

or if a mist came down, or a mist cleared,

as the ferryman and you exchanged small jokes…


Thus Psyche-life, who studied animation

at a fine film-school, storyboards the sequel,

a short montage for the remotest reel

far beyond metaphor and adaptation.


She’s your material girl: there’s lots to do.

She finishes the yoghurt, washes spoons

and sheets, dusts mirrors, picks up small possessions

like clouds, and watches them turn into you.


Poems from Bezdelki: Small Things, The Emma Press, 2018. Copyright 2018 by Carol Rumens, reprinted by permission of the author.


The first poem is a rendition of a poem by Mandelshtam, Kogda Psiheja-zhizn’ spuskaetsya k tenjam. (For a variant translation, see an earlier CI publication)