The Old Women of the Shore

Translated by Alastair Reid

To the grave sea come the old women
with shawls knotted round them,
on frail and brittle feet.
They sit themselves on the shore
without changing eyes or hands,
without changing clouds or silence.
The obscene sea breaks and scrapes,
slides down trumpeting mountains,
shakes out its bulls’ beards.
The unruffled women sitting
as though in a glass boat
look at the savaging waves.
Where are they going, where have they been?
they come from every corner,
they come from our own life.
Now they have the ocean,
the cold and burning emptiness,
the solitude full of flames.
They come out of all the past,
from houses which once were fragrant,
from burnt-out twilights.
They watch or don’t watch the sea,
they scrawl marks with a stick,
and the sea wipes out their calligraphy.
The old women rise and go
on their delicate birds’ feet,
while the great roistering waves
roll nakedly on in the wind.